O'Neal could return to Miami's lineup Wednesday

Though they lost to the Denver Nuggets on a late three by Earl Boykins, the Miami Heat also had something to cheer about on Saturday.

All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal, who has played in just two of the team's 17 games this season due to a severe right ankle sprain, told the Palm Beach Post that he will practice on Tuesday and could potentially play on Wednesday when Miami travels to San Antonio to play the Spurs.

"I'm going to practice Tuesday and see how hard I can go, and the true test is always the next day after that," O'Neal told the Post. "We'll just wait until Tuesday and then we'll just see what happens."

The Post reported that O'Neal likely will return for one of Miami's home dates, either on Friday against Denver or Sunday against Washington. Otherwise, he'll continue his recovery as the much-anticipated Dec. 25 matchup against the Lakers draws near.

"I just want to get back out there with the guys and try to complete what we want to get done," he told the paper. "I'm not going to let that particular game influence me to come back because it's not that important to me, especially on that day."

O'Neal had 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks in Miami's first game -- a win over Memphis -- but failed to finish the team's second game after coming down awkwardly on Jermaine O'Neal's foot in a loss to Indiana. The initial diagnosis was that Miami would be without its center for 2-4 weeks, but O'Neal's recovery has been slower than expected.

Playing in place of O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning has had a resurgent year at center, averaging 11.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game while playing nearly 29 minutes per night. Those totals, however, are well below what O'Neal posted last year: 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

"He's the best center in the league right now," O'Neal told the Post of Mourning. "He's playing well, very impressive out there. A guy his age, a guy in his condition, it's just a joy to watch."

The Heat have gone 9-6 without O'Neal, but only 4-4 over their last eight games.