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Center not ready as leg woes continue

WASHINGTON -- Shaquille O'Neal sat in a chair in a hotel
restaurant Friday afternoon, gently massaging his right thigh with
his left hand.

"I'm getting very restless, but I'm not going to do anything to
hurt the team," the Miami Heat center said. "I'm going to take my
time. If this pain in my leg ever goes away, aye-yi-yi-yi-yi.
Forget about it."

O'Neal missed a playoff game for the first time in his career
Thursday night, a 102-95 victory that gave the Heat a 3-0 series
lead over the Washington Wizards. O'Neal might be a spectator again
for Game 4 on Saturday, when his team can complete a sweep that
would buy even more rest for his deeply bruised thigh before the
start of the Eastern Conference finals.

"I feel a little bit better," O'Neal said. "I want to be out
there with the guys, but we'll just have to see."

O'Neal has had little to say in recent days, a reflection of his
disappointment that he hasn't been the dominant postseason player
of years past. He limped his way to playoff averages of 18 points
and 8.2 rebounds, both career-lows, through four games against the
New Jersey Nets and two against the Wizards before the doctors
finally held him out.

"My guys are carrying me, lifting me. I'll be there one day
when they really need me," O'Neal said. "But of course, I'm
down."

Over the last six weeks, O'Neal has battled a stomach virus and
bruises in both thighs, although he said his left leg is now fine.
He said he has found it difficult to watch himself on tape.

"It's not me. That's Shawn Bradley and Gheorghe Muresan, mixed
in one," he said.

O'Neal said he's talked to football players who have had similar
injuries, but he has no real idea when he'll be healthy again. The
Heat have held their own -- 7-0 in the playoffs -- without the big
man at his best, but he'll almost certainly be needed in the rounds
to come.

"We can't win it all," Alonzo Mourning said, "unless the big
fellow's on the floor."

Mourning has answered the call during O'Neal's struggles,
scoring 14 points with 13 rebounds and four blocks Thursday night.
The 35-year-old kidney transplant recipient was starting his first
playoff game since 2001, and he badly wants the NBA title that's
always eluded him.

"I'm battle-scarred," Mourning said. "I know what it feels to
hurt, and I don't want to feel that way anymore at all. We've got a
tremendous opportunity to do something special this year, and I
plan on doing everything possible in my means to try to help this
organization accomplish that goal. I've made a tremendous amount of
sacrifice to be in this situation, and I want to reap some rewards
at the end of it all."

Other than O'Neal's health, the biggest question remaining in
this series is whether the Wizards have any fight left. No NBA team
has won a series after trailing 3-0, and morale took the biggest
hit possible with a home loss with O'Neal not playing for the other
team.

The Wizards, like the Heat, opted not to practice Friday,
although Washington coach Eddie Jordan did have a film review
session with the players to set a tone for Saturday.

"It's a chance for us to show that we have a lot of mettle, to
show that we are still a good team at home," Jordan said. "We're
going to show that we've learned some lessons, and that we're going
to compete to the end. We hope that tomorrow night is symbolic of
what our season has been about, dealing with adversity, fighting
and winning at home when people don't think we can achieve
something."

Jordan said the chances are "very slim" that forward Etan
Thomas will play. Thomas strained an abdominal muscle in Game 2 and
sat out Game 3.

Meanwhile, at the Heat's hotel, Mourning and O'Neal discussed
their futures. Asked if he would think about retiring if Miami wins
the title, Mourning said he would have to discuss that with O'Neal.

O'Neal's response?

"We'll talk about it," O'Neal said. "I might want him to go
out when I go out in two or three."

Why two or three years?

"Because I want to break a couple of people's records," O'Neal
said. "I want you guys to remember me. Right now you guys just
know my name. That's not good enough. I want you to remember my
name, and when you hear it I want you go to 'Wow.' "