Shaq's back — but status of Cavaliers' big man for Wednesday's s
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — While the Cavaliers decide whether or not to play
Shaquille O’Neal in the season finale on Wednesday, it may be easy to
forget that having the option to play him before the end of the season
is a victory in itself.
O’Neal has been cleared by doctors to return and he went through all of
practice Monday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. If his right thumb makes it
through Tuesday’s contact practice without problems, there’s a good
chance coach Mike Brown will give him around 20 minutes of playing time
Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
When O’Neal first had surgery to repair the torn ligament in his thumb, the team projected he could be out up to eight weeks. That timetable could have forced him to miss the first round of the playoffs.
But Monday was exactly six weeks to the day that Dr. Thomas Graham fixed O’Neal’s thumb at the National Hand Center in Baltimore and O’Neal was at 100 percent.
Doctors were so pleased with the healing process that O’Neal, who has lost around 20 pounds by running and cutting out cheeseburgers during his absence, probably could have returned earlier if the games were more important.
Perhaps not wanting to jinx the recovery, O’Neal declined to talk about his progress Monday and said he would discuss it when he was activated.
"I think he’s ready to go; he said he’s healthy," LeBron James said. "He’s in shape, but it is totally different from being out on the court and that type of shape."
There is some temptation for Brown to reassemble his entire starting lineup to attempt to find some rhythm before the start of the playoffs. That would include James, who has been inactive for the last three games.
It would be a good test especially against the Hawks, a potential playoff opponent who will want to win the game to secure their own playoff seeding. Brown has only been able to use his complete starting lineup with O’Neal and Antawn Jamison twice and just once did it last a full game.
But the concern over last-minute injury still seems to be weighing on Brown’s mind and for that reason he doesn’t seem committed to attempting to test out the new/old look. Even if it could mean a smoother start to the postseason when the Cavs would be playing lineups not used to each other.
"Part of me says yes," Brown said. "Part of me says it is the last game so are we really going to be much better come playoff time if we played in the last game together."