by Conrad Brunner
December 20, 2002
Indianapolis, December 20, 2002 - Jermaine O'Neal will miss at least a week and said Friday may need to go on the injured list with a sprained left knee.
"Right now, we know it'll be a week, at least," said coach Isiah Thomas before the Pacers beat the Bulls 101-86 at Conseco Fieldhouse. "You don't know how long it'll be after that."
O'Neal suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of the Pacers' 95-83 loss in Houston on Wednesday night. If he misses a week, that would mean an absence of four games. The Pacers meet the Bulls again in Chicago on Saturday night. Atlanta comes to Conseco Fieldhouse Monday night, then the team travels to Cleveland next Friday. Then comes consecutive games against Central Division rival New Orleans on Dec. 28 at home and Dec. 31 at home.
"I'd rather go on the injured list if I'm not going to heal fast," said O'Neal, who began rehabilitation work Friday. "(Saturday) will be really the day that I can judge."
O'Neal's absence means an opportunity for Al Harrington, who moved into the starting lineup and produced 19 points and eight rebounds against the Bulls. Center Brad Miller also became a primary option inside and he responded with 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, adding 14 rebounds.
"It's no pressure, just more opportunities for some different people," Miller said. "We've got a lot of guys who can step forward."
Friday's numbers notwithstanding, no individual is expected to replace O'Neal's team-leading averages of 20.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.68 blocked shots.
"We've got guys who can pull some extra weight," Harrington said.
Thomas said he wouldn't make major changes to the team's strategy in the interim.
"When we talk about developing our players to completion and having interchangeable parts, these are the types of things you hope to be prepared for," Thomas said. "When you have a guy like him go down, you go to Plan B.
"We won't change too many things. We'll tweak a few things, but we'll continue with our same style of play."
O'Neal missed 11 games in his first two seasons with the Pacers, including 10 last season - eight due to injury and two due to suspension. His longest absence came in January, when he missed four in a row with a hyperextended left knee.