Shaq remains day-to-day; Alonzo still unsigned

Updated: February 26, 2005, 5:05 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- As he lay on the court in Chicago, grasping at his left knee and wincing from the pain, Shaquille O'Neal feared he'd never play again.

Shaquille O'Neal
Miami Heat
54 22.7 10.4 2.9 .599 .461

O'Neal leaped for an alley-oop pass from Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade early in Tuesday night's game, a seemingly innocent play. Yet the 7-foot-1, 325-pound behemoth landed awkwardly, toppled over Bulls forward Othella Harrington -- and immediately knew something was wrong.

"It didn't feel right when I landed," O'Neal said Saturday, speaking in depth about the injury for the first time with reporters. "I thought it was over.

"I've always had fears of ending my career like that," O'Neal added. "As a youngster, when I'd talk to certain people and they would try to motivate us to go to school, the first thing they'd always say was 'What are you going to do when you blow your knee out?' … I've always had fears of coming down freakily like that."

Fortunately for the 12-time All-Star, it turned out to be only a mild sprain, one that likely won't have him sidelined too much longer. O'Neal missed essentially his third straight game Saturday, and watched in a suit as the Heat beat Orlando 101-98.

O'Neal wore only a flexible blue brace over the knee before Saturday's game, walked around the locker room without a noticeable limp and said there's a chance -- albeit slim -- that he may play in Orlando when the teams complete a weekend home-and-home series Sunday.

All he would say publicly in recent days was that the knee felt "good," and teammates said he immediately professed that the injury wasn't too serious. Yet on Saturday, O'Neal indicated those words may have been tinged with a bit of bravado.

"Very scared. … Once I had the MRI, everything was OK," O'Neal said. "Made me feel a little bit better."

O'Neal is averaging 22.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks this season, and has an NBA-leading field-goal percentage of 59.9.

He was injured less than two minutes into the Bulls' game, did not return and didn't suit up for Miami's game in Indiana on Wednesday. Miami lost both games in overtime.

"People think we can't win without Shaq," said Wade, who had 25 points in Saturday's victory. "We wanted to show we're a good team."

O'Neal has missed only three starts this season for Miami. A variety of injuries sidelined him for 15 games in each of his last three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

He's receiving twice-daily treatments on the knee, and said that at worst, he hopes to be back at practice next week. After Sunday's game, the Heat are off until a road game with New Jersey on Thursday.

"I think that people are figuring out that, obviously, we're not nearly as good without him, but we're not just totally going to fall apart," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Miami plays Chicago once more this season; the Bulls visit on April 5. And O'Neal said he's looking forward to seeing Harrington -- whom he called "clumsy" for falling over and causing the injury -- again. Of course, he said it while smiling broadly and indicating that he was kidding at least a little bit.

"I'm going to get him, going to make him pay," O'Neal said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press