Heat don't expect Shaq back until next week

MINNEAPOLIS -- The reeling Miami Heat won't get Shaquille O'Neal back for at least a week while he receives treatment for a hip injury that has sidelined him for six games.

Coach Pat Riley said Tuesday that O'Neal is still in Los Angeles, but the Heat are encouraged by the treatment there and "hope he'll be back by next week."

O'Neal had an MRI exam on Monday, and Riley said it revealed only "soft tissue and that kind of stuff, the inflammation and stuff. The initial reports on the test and things like that have been positive."

O'Neal bruised his left hip on Dec. 22 against the Utah Jazz while diving for a loose ball and crashing into the scorer's table. The injury flared up on Dec. 26 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Riley expects him to return to the team this weekend. Starting Saturday, the Heat have four days off before hosting the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 16.

Miami entered Tuesday night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on a seven-game losing streak to fall to 8-26, the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

While injuries have resulted in the worst statistical season of O'Neal's 16-year career -- 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game -- the Heat sorely miss his presence in the paint on both ends of the court.

The once-proud defensive team hasn't given up fewer than 94 points in a game since Dec. 17, and opponents have shot better than 50 percent in four of the past 10 games.