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Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Christmas showdown vs. Kobe uncertain

Associated Press

MIAMI -- The Miami Heat hope Shaquille O'Neal will be back for their next game after the star center was held out of Tuesday night's game against the Boston Celtics because of a bruised left calf.

Shaquille O'Neal
Miami Heat
26 20.9 11.0 3.1 .606 .453

O'Neal was injured in Sunday's win over Orlando, and received treatment Monday and Tuesday with the hopes of playing against the Celtics -- a game Miami managed to win without him, 108-100 behind a 33-point, 11-assist effort from Dwyane Wade.

"We didn't know for sure until right before the game," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Shaq, to his credit, was trying to do everything he could to get ready to play. We prepared as though we would not have him."

O'Neal did not speak to reporters Tuesday, and never appeared in the Heat locker room after the game. He didn't take part in the team's shootaround Tuesday morning either, spending the time getting extra treatment on the calf.

A similar injury to his right calf kept O'Neal out of 12 games last season. The Heat's next game is Thursday at Sacramento.

"He doesn't have a major, major injury," Van Gundy said. "It's just going to be a matter of swelling and pain."

Michael Doleac started in O'Neal's place and scored eight points in 28 minutes.

The decision to sit O'Neal wasn't announced until about 75 minutes before tip-off, when reporters saw Doleac's name listed as the starter in the Heat locker room.

O'Neal is averaging 20.9 points and 11 rebounds this season for the Heat, who are 20-9 -- the best record in the Eastern Conference. He donned a black suit and sat on the Miami bench for Tuesday's game.

Hubbub has continued building in recent days for the much-hyped Christmas Day matchup against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. It's still unclear if O'Neal will be able to play in that game.

In an interview aired on ABC's "Monday Night Football," O'Neal -- keeping with his policy of not identifying Bryant specifically by name -- compared his former teammate to a Corvette and himself to a brick wall, and said "you know what's going to happen" when the two collide.

The incessant attention surrounding the game is wearing on Miami's collective nerves. Most players are declining to answer any questions about the impending Shaq-Kobe meeting.

"They had this on 'Monday Night Football,'" Heat guard Eddie Jones said. "Can you believe that?"

O'Neal missed 15 games in each of the previous three seasons with an array of leg and foot injuries, and was sidelined for a significant portion of this year's training camp with a hamstring strain.

He entered Tuesday leading the NBA in field-goal percentage (.606), ranking fifth in rebounds and 20th in scoring.