Forum Spin Doctor
MIAMI - Relegated to a role as the NBA's most imposing cheerleader, Shaquille O'Neal couldn't help the Miami Heat. The defending champions lost at home for the third game in a row Friday as their 13-time All-Star center watched from the bench, and he'll remain there for at least a month. O'Neal will undergo surgery to repair torn knee cartilage, and he's expected to be sidelined four to six weeks.
The injury, originally diagnosed as a hyperextended knee, occurred Sunday against Houston. The Heat lost that game and the two since, including a 100-76 defeat Friday against the New York Knicks.
"This is how you build character," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "We're down now, but we know the true test of a champion is how they fight back."
Last season, O'Neal sprained his ankle in Miami's home opener and missed the next 18 games. He sat out a total of 23 games, and the Heat went 10-13 without him before their postseason run to the title.
The 34-year-old O'Neal missed Tuesday's game, practiced Thursday and was expected to play against the Knicks. But knee stiffness sent him to the doctor Friday for an MRI that revealed a tear in the cartilage.
"I kind of knew something was wrong with him," Wade said. "It's important for him to get it taken care of, because we need him down the stretch."
The Heat announced shortly before tipoff that O'Neal would undergo surgery, with the date to be determined.
"I think the guys have sort of been waiting for him to come back," coach Pat Riley said. "Now we have to look in another direction."
O'Neal, wearing a sport coat and tie, watched as Knicks center Eddy Curry made all five of his shots in the third quarter, when New York pulled away by outscoring Miami 34-14.
"I wish Shaq well," Curry said. "But I didn't miss him tonight. I know I dodged a bullet."
The defeat dropped the Heat's record to 3-5. O'Neal missed two games earlier in the season with a bruise to the knee and would miss 18 to 25 games if sidelined four to six weeks.
"Injuries are part of the game," Riley said. "You deal with them."
There was more bad news for Miami: Jason Williams, a starter last season, sounded discouraged following his first game since offseason arthroscopic knee surgery.
He had eight points and four turnovers in 18 minutes.
"My knee felt OK in the beginning, then got a little tight in the second half," Williams said. "I just don't feel like me."
O'Neal was hurt when he collided with Houston's Chuck Hayes, who is expected to miss up to two weeks with a bruised and hyperextended left knee. O'Neal, who has averaged 14.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in four games, was replaced in the starting lineup by Alonzo Mourning.
Team physician Dr. Harlan Selesnick will perform the surgery on O'Neal, which is expected to take only 20 to 30 minutes, Riley said. O'Neal can begin rehabilitation immediately afterward, and the projected timetable for his recovery means he would return sometime from Dec. 23 to Jan. 7.