by Conrad Brunner
January 16, 2002
INDIANAPOLIS, January 16, 2002 - The early news on Jermaine O'Neal's knee injury was positive. An MRI on Wednesday showed no structural damage and no ligament tears in the left knee, which was injured in the second quarter of Tuesday night's 106-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Conseco Fieldhouse.
The injury was diagnosed as a hyperextension of the knee. O'Neal will be re-evaluated Friday; only then will a timetable on his return be considered.
The Pacers will be without their leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker when they face the Bucks on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
How much longer they will miss their best player remains to be seen.
The injury occurred inadvertently. Jamaal Tinsley, taking a charge against a driving Tim Thomas, was knocked to the floor and into the left knee of O'Neal, who was coming down after grabbing the rebound. O'Neal initially tried to get back to his feet but winced and grabbed his knee, staying on the floor until help arrived.
"I don’t know what happened," O'Neal said after the game. "I just remembered someone falling into my knee and pushing me knee backwards. It’s real sore."
This is the second injury of the season for O'Neal, who missed three games with a bruised lower back. The Pacers lost all three.
"We don't know how long he's going to be out, but this happened to us earlier in the season," said coach Isiah Thomas Tuesday night. "We were on a pretty good roll, the team was playing good, then he went out and we lost our rhythm, lost our momentum. He's a big part of what we do - a huge part of what we do. And the way the league is now, you take any one of the monsters off a team and they're not the same. Even though Kobe (Bryant) got 56 the other night (for the Lakers), they ain't the same team when the daddy (Shaquille O'Neal) ain't there. When we lose our best player in Jermaine, we're not the same team."
How Thomas will alter the lineup without O'Neal remains to be seen. Rookie Primoz Brezec picked up the extra playing time on Tuesday night and wound up with six points two rebounds and four fouls in 18 minutes. Thomas may also consider starting Al Harrington in O'Neal's position against the Bucks, who employ a relatively small front line with 6-7 Anthony Mason at power forward.
"I thought Brezec came in and did a real nice job," Thomas said. "This will be an opportunity for him to play, to get some minutes out on the floor and I think he can hold his own. Jeff is Jeff and defensively, we'll be all right. I think we'll probably struggle a little bit on the offensive end but you never know, depending on how other guys play. Maybe we can get a guy hot for four or five games and we can ride this thing out."
Regardless of who starts, the Pacers will have slack to pick up in a critical rematch with the Bucks, who can clinch the season series - and a potentially crucial playoff tie-breaker - with a victory.
"We’ve got to find a way to go up there tomorrow and get the job done," said Jalen Rose. "Even without Jermaine we should have the firepower within to offset. We can’t dwell on his absence. We’ve got to build on this. This is the NBA, these things happen almost every day. Now we’ve just got to find and answer and we don’t have much time. We need to knock down some shots and play tough defense.”