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O'Neal calls sitting out rest of season 'worst-case scenario'

PHILADELPHIA -- Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal called
sitting out the season with a bruised left knee a "worst-case
scenario" and refused to put a timetable on his return.

"I don't know when I'm coming back," O'Neal said before
Monday's game against Philadelphia.

The Pacers said Saturday that O'Neal would miss at least two
weeks. And O'Neal acknowledged before the game that he might have
rushed back too soon from offseason knee surgery.

"Missing the season is a worst-case scenario," O'Neal said
Monday.

But he told The Indianapolis Star for Monday's edition that he
was willing to sit out the rest of the season, calling it the
"prime option for me."

O'Neal planned to visit specialists in New York or Los Angeles
for additional evaluation.

Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said he expected O'Neal to return and
help Indiana chase the final East playoff spot. Indiana (18-23)
began Monday a half-game behind New Jersey (18-22) for eighth in
the Eastern Conference standings.

"Our medical people think it's a minimum of two weeks,"
O'Brien said. "They fully expect him to play this year."

A six-time All-Star, O'Neal is averaging 15.3 points, 7.3
rebounds and 2.2 blocks this season, but he has missed eight games
and barely practiced the last two or three weeks. Over the past 3½ seasons, O'Neal has missed 90 games due to injuries, illnesses
and suspensions.

"I've played at a very average level because of the pain,
because of the swelling," O'Neal said.

He said he was surprised he has not fully recovered from last
April's knee surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage.

O'Neal even apologized to the Pacers for stepping away from
basketball to recover.

"I'm not helping the team at the level I'm used to helping,"
he said.