MRI shows no damage beyond swelling
"The MRI confirmed a strained calf muscle and showed significant swelling, but no other damage," Lakers spokesman John Black said. "He will definitely miss the next two games. Beyond that, we don't want to speculate on a return date."
O'Neal was injured in the second quarter of last Friday night's game at Seattle. The Lakers lost that game as well as the three that followed, giving them their second four-game losing streak in Phil Jackson's four-plus seasons as coach.
"All right, getting better," O'Neal told reporters Thursday before leaving for the MRI.
"Today was about coming out and playing basketball, not worrying about things," Jackson said.
The Lakers (21-11) have lost six of seven games since Karl Malone sprained a ligament in his right knee Dec. 21, and eight of 11 following their 18-3 start.
"You guys know me -- I think this is really good for us," Jackson said of the recent slump. "We were real cocky about (the fast start). This is all about focus. It will make us a better team."
Jackson acknowledged the injuries to Malone and O'Neal had a lot to do with the slump, but didn't put it all on that.
"We've had a four-game road trip. We became progressively worse," Jackson said, adding that Wednesday night's game at Denver was the first when the team seemed to give up, as veteran Horace Grant said afterward.
"I was surprised to see that, I thought we could push through it," Jackson said. "It's one game. I tell them to flush it down the toilet and play a better game against Atlanta tomorrow. I'd really like to see these guys win a game without (O'Neal), to show their mettle."
The 40-year-old Malone, on the injured list for the first time in his 19-year career, is eligible to play against Cleveland, but Jackson didn't sound optimistic about it.
"That's a long shot -- it's still worth thinking about for a second," Jackson said. "I'd be very pleased if he's able to be back next week. We're not going to push this. It was as serious as we thought it might be at the beginning."
Jackson also said that Rick Fox, who hasn't played since undergoing surgery on his left foot nearly eight months ago, isn't ready to go.
"Basketball on a daily basis is not quite there yet," Jackson said.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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