by Conrad Brunner
January 18, 2002
INDIANAPOLIS, January 18, 2002 - Jermaine O'Neal said Friday night that rehabilitation on his left knee injury is ahead of schedule but that he does not expect to return to action until the middle of next week, at the earliest.
O'Neal suffered a hyperextended left knee on Tuesday night against Milwaukee and missed the rematch on Wednesday night as well as the Pacers' game against Detroit on Friday night. The team embarks on a three-game road trip beginning Saturday night in Miami, continuing Monday in Chicago and concluding Wednesday in Boston.
After O'Neal met with team physician Dr. Sanford Kunkel prior to Friday night's game, the Pacers announced he would miss the first two games of the trip but would be considered day-to-day therafter.
"I don't know when I'm coming back but I am getting better," O'Neal said. "I'm planning on taking the trip, if I can. My goal is to get back on the court as soon as possible. If I can get back in time for the Boston game, I'll try.
"I'm not going to baby the injury. I'm going to go at it full force until I can get back on the court."
O'Neal said he has been running in a pool and doing light weightlifting but that the pain and swelling from the stretched medial collateral ligament is still a hindrance.
Coach Isiah Thomas said he isn't sure when to expect O'Neal back, but that players who have been yearning for extra playing time should take advantage of the opportunity afforded by his absence.
"I don't think there's anything you can do to make up for the loss of a player such as him," Thomas said. "Everybody's got to play his game and not try to do too much. We don't have a guy who's going to step in and act like Jermaine, but this is an opportunity for some guys to play more minutes, and I would like to see one of our players step in and take advantage of that opportunity."
Primoz Brezec started the first two games in O'Neal's absence at center, with Jeff Foster moving over to power forward. Thomas has been impressed by the 7-1 rookie from Slovenia thus far.
"The more he's out there," he said, "the more you shake your head and think, 'Maybe he can.' "