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Availability uncertain as O'Neal nurses thigh injury

MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal was unable to practice Monday
because of his bruised right thigh, and the All-Star center's
availability for Miami's final two regular-season games is uncertain.

Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said O'Neal's status is day to day,
yet reiterated that he wouldn't rush the team's 7-foot-1, 327-pound
star back into the lineup.

"Right now, we've got to get the swelling out of the thigh,"
Van Gundy said. "That's the first step. He's not at that point
yet. I would be very, very surprised if he can play [Tuesday]."

Miami hosts Charlotte on Tuesday and ends the regular season
Wednesday in Orlando.

O'Neal was injured Sunday when he was kneed by Indiana forward
Jermaine O'Neal while defending a drive to the basket. He left
shortly before halftime of the Heat's 84-80 win, and didn't return.

Van Gundy said he expects O'Neal to be ready for the playoffs.
Miami opens the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals at
home this weekend, facing either Philadelphia, New Jersey or
Cleveland.

"Could it linger? Of course," Van Gundy said. "Anything can.
You just don't know. We're just taking it day by day."

O'Neal wasn't available for comment Monday. If he doesn't play
Tuesday, Alonzo Mourning will be the likely starter at center.
Mourning played 18 of the 24 second-half minutes in the win over
the Pacers, and finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three
critical blocked shots.

"It's apparent that we can't win it all without the big
fella," Mourning said. "We need him on the court. We need him
healthy. Whatever amount of time it takes him to get right, so be
it."

The injury is the latest in a string of late-season maladies for
O'Neal, who missed three games earlier this month with a stomach
virus. He returned for Miami's games in Philadelphia and Boston
last week, and scored 11 points in 17 minutes before getting hurt
Sunday.

O'Neal is averaging 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds this season for Miami.