O'Neal will undergo surgery Monday to repair
his injured right thumb. He was examined Sunday by Dr. Thomas Graham at
the National Hand Center in Baltimore. Graham will perform the surgery.
The Cavaliers said they will update a time line
for his return following the procedure, but a typical recovery period is six to eight weeks. There are seven weeks left in the regular season.
"I think we'll be all right," point guard Mo
Williams said before learning O'Neal needed surgery. "We'll weather the
storm while the big fella gets some rest."
The Cavaliers acquired O'Neal last summer with
an eye toward the postseason, and more specifically Dwight Howard and
Orlando after the Magic eliminated Cleveland in the Eastern Conference
finals. O'Neal has played well for the Cavaliers this season, averaging
12 points and 6.7 rebounds in 53 games.
More importantly, he has played a big role in
the Cavaliers going 4-1 against the Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers,
two teams Cleveland struggled against last season and two teams likely
to block Cleveland's path to a championship.
O'Neal injured the thumb Thursday at Boston
when his shot was blocked by Glen "Big Baby" Davis with just over seven
minutes left in the first half.
Anderson Varejao will continue to start at
center for the Cavs. Former backup Zydrunas Ilgauskas, traded to
Washington for Antawn Jamison, is now a free agent following a buyout
from the Wizards. Ilgauskas is free to sign with any team, but will have
to wait until March 21 under NBA rules should he elect to re-sign with
The Cavaliers are a more up-tempo team with
O'Neal out of the lineup.
"With Shaq, you have to take advantage of his
size and you have to go in the paint. He gets teams in foul trouble real
easy," Williams said. "Without Shaq, it'll be more pick-and-rolls, more
drive-and-kicks and more 3-point attempts. We'll spread the floor out
and attack the rim in different ways."
O'Neal suffered a similar injury while playing
with the Magic in 1995, when he missed the first 22 games of the season
when he fractured the same thumb. Counting Monday's game against New
York, the Cavaliers have 22 games left in the regular season.
Cleveland also recalled rookie Danny Green
from Erie of the NBA Development League on Sunday. He was assigned to
Erie on Feb. 24 and played in two games for the BayHawks.