Shaq getting in shape, unlikely to make Suns debut Wednesday

PHOENIX -- Shaquille O'Neal doesn't want to slow the Phoenix Suns.

That's why he may make them wait a few more days before playing his eagerly awaited first game debut in purple and orange.

O'Neal, who is learning a new offense and working his way into shape after a hip injury, is unlikely to play when the Suns visit Golden State on Wednesday night. After returning from the Bay Area, the team will decide whether O'Neal will play against Dallas on Thursday night in Phoenix.

"I want to be a little more in tune before I step out on the court, because as you watch this team without me, they're like a great flowing machine," O'Neal said after practice Tuesday at US Airways Center. "I don't want to be the kink in the machinery."

If O'Neal doesn't play this week, his debut could come on Feb. 20 against his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Phoenix plays host to its Pacific Division rival in the first game after the All-Star break.

O'Neal, who has been out since Jan. 21 with a hip injury, went through his second Suns practice on Tuesday morning, participating in a full-court workout before the team left for California in the afternoon.

"I haven't done anything in a month and a half," O'Neal said. "I'm in great human shape. I'm in OK basketball shape. I've just got to get into basketball shape."

Coach Mike D'Antoni said the team would make a decision on O'Neal's availability for the game against the Warriors after an individual workout before the game, but it appears doubtful that O'Neal will play.

"He's not quite ready," D'Antoni said. "He wants to be comfortable with the offense. He knows it's going to be a big splash when he goes out the first time."

D'Antoni said it's "possible" O'Neal could play against the Mavericks on Thursday night.

O'Neal injured his hip diving for a loose ball against Utah on Dec. 22. He returned Jan. 16 but was sidelined again five days later. An MRI showed inflammation in the left hip, shutting him down from all basketball activity.

Phoenix is 2-1 since the trade last Wednesday that brought O'Neal from the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. The Suns have the conference's best record at 36-15, but a pack of pursuers isn't far behind.

The Suns say they aren't worried about playing short-handed until O'Neal is ready to join them.

"The big fella will play when he's ready to play," point guard Steve Nash said. "There's no rush. We've got a couple of months here to figure it out."

O'Neal's teammates are stressing patience. But they can't help looking ahead to life with one of the greatest centers in NBA history.

"I've never played with a post player before," Nash said. "So it's going to be interesting. But what a great player to play with. It's going to be a lot of fun to try to figure it out.

"There'll probably be some indecision and some uncertainty at times," Nash said. "But we've got a couple of months, so it'll all come together."

That process has already begun, if only in the privacy of the Suns' practice court. During Tuesday's full-court drill, Nash chased down a loose ball in the corner and flipped the ball toward the rim, knowing that O'Neal would be the only player who could reach it.

O'Neal said he's looking forward to playing with Nash, a two-time MVP who is adept at finding teammates for wide-open shots in the Suns' free-flowing attack.

"I've never had a point guard like him," O'Neal said. "As I was telling Steve, I haven't got an easy bucket in six years."