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Heat center O'Neal has MRI on left hip, shelved at least 2 weeks

MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal will miss at least the next two
weeks because of recurring pain in his left hip and leg, the latest
piece of disappointing news for the reeling Miami Heat.

An MRI exam performed Tuesday on O'Neal's ailing hip found acute
inflammation in that joint and his quadriceps muscle. He will be
treated with ice, but won't do any basketball-related activity --
with hopes that rest will cure the problem.

O'Neal will miss at least six games, barring a change in the
rehabilitation schedule. The earliest he could return under the
timetable released by the team is Feb. 6 at Detroit.

"His activity, the activity, is exacerbating it," said Heat
coach Pat Riley, whose team has lost 14 straight games, three shy
of matching the franchise record. "That's all. That's what
happens. He's trying to do everything he do. He's gotten all the
treatment he can get. And now it's probably going to be an inactive
period of time until the thing heals."

O'Neal was not available to reporters Tuesday. He has missed an
average of 20 games over the past six seasons because of an array
of injuries, and still has two full seasons after this remaining on
his five-year, $100 million contract with Miami.

Other tests done Tuesday, including bloodwork, ruled out the
possibility of infection or other problems, the team said.

O'Neal suffered the hip injury while diving for a loose ball
against Utah on Dec. 22 -- the last game Miami won. He missed eight
games from Dec. 28 through Jan. 11, sought treatment in Los Angeles
over that stretch, and returned when the Heat started their current
seven-game homestand Jan. 16.

O'Neal left Monday's game against Cleveland in the first quarter
to have the hip re-taped, then returned to the game with a
noticeable limp. He finished with 10 points, none after halftime.

He's averaging a career-low 14.2 points this season, and his
string of 14 straight All-Star Game selections -- which matches a
league record -- almost seems certain to end because of his latest
malady.

Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 32 of Miami's 38 second-half
points in Monday's 97-90 loss to Cleveland, said it's tough to
continue watching O'Neal play in obvious pain.

"He's judged more than a lot of the athletes in the world
because of who he is, who he has become," Wade said. "If he's
playing and hurting and not playing good, he's being talked about.
If he's not playing and he's trying to get healthy, then he's being
talked about for taking time off. It's a lose-lose situation. As
his friend, I want him to be healthy. That's the most important
thing to us."

Mark Blount likely will become Miami's new starting center, now
that O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning (season-ending knee and quadriceps
injuries) are hurting. Centers Joel Anthony and Earl Barron are
also on the Heat roster, although they've combined to play 207
minutes this season.

Depending on how long O'Neal is out, Riley said the team might
try to add another big man for depth.

"We'll talk about it," Riley said.

For now, Blount -- who started 81 games for Minnesota last year
and who has averaged 5.7 points in 16 minutes per game this season
-- will be the primary pivot man Miami, which has the Eastern
Conference's worst record at 8-32.

When Blount was acquired before the season in a trade, he
expected to spend the year playing alongside O'Neal and Mourning
and helping the Heat get back to their championship form from two
seasons ago.

"It's been different," Blount said. "There's nothing I can do
about that. Nothing you can really say. The team is looking at me
to try to help them out right now. Of course, you want to be there
with Shaq and be there with Zo, but that's not the situation right
now."