It’s been a tough month for Shaquille O’Neal.
Miami will again be without its All-Star center as it plays its home finale against the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
O’Neal was injured Sunday when he was kneed by Indiana forward Jermaine O’Neal while defending a drive to the basket. He left shortly before halftime of the Heat’s 84-80 win, and didn’t return. He was unable to practice Monday.
Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday the 12-time All-Star will miss the final two regular-season games, but is expected to be ready for the playoffs.
“He’s getting treatment. We expect him to be ready for the weekend,” Van Gundy said.
Miami, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, will open the playoffs at home either Saturday or Sunday against Cleveland, Philadelphia or New Jersey.
“Could it linger? Of course,” Van Gundy said. “Anything can. You just don’t know. We’re just taking it day by day.”
Alonzo Mourning will be the likely starter at center for Miami’s last two games. Mourning played 18 of the 24 second-half minutes in the win over the Pacers, and finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three critical blocked shots.
“It’s apparent that we can’t win it all without the big fella,” Mourning said. “We need him on the court. We need him healthy. Whatever amount of time it takes him to get right, so be it.”
The injury is the latest in a string of late-season maladies for O’Neal, who missed three games earlier this month with a stomach virus. He returned for Miami’s games in Philadelphia and Boston last week, and scored 11 points in 17 minutes before getting hurt Sunday.
Charlotte is also banged up with its inaugural season coming to an end.
The Bobcats played in Washington on Sunday without leading scorer and rebounder Emeka Okafor, who bruised his right thigh in Saturday’s 100-98 loss to New York. Center Primoz Brezec missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle, and Gerald Wallace didn’t play the last seven minutes because of a sore left shoulder.
Malik Allen got his first start of 2004-05 in coach Bernie Bickerstaff’s 24th starting lineup of the season. Charlotte dressed just nine players, prompting Bickerstaff to say, “We got more coaches than we got players” after the starting lineups were introduced.
The Bobcats stayed close throughout, but lost 106-104 when a deflected ball somehow ended up in Antawn Jamison’s hands for a wide-open winning layup with 1.3 seconds remaining.
“It’s tough to swallow because you try so hard to win a game and you think you have it with a minute to go,” said Charlotte’s Matt Carroll, who had a career-high 22 points. “Our goal was to knock a couple teams off in the playoff run and we came close.”
Miami concludes its regular season Wednesday at Orlando, while Charlotte hosts Detroit in its finale.