O'Neal Is Shooting for Friday

Times Staff Writer

For Laker fans worried about Shaquille O'Neal's calf injury, he says everything's going to be all right.

"It's something that happens," a lighthearted O'Neal said Tuesday. "I won't miss more than 50 games, so ... "

That was a joke. O'Neal doesn't expect to be out long, but he also doesn't expect to play tonight against the Washington Wizards, aiming instead for Friday's game against the San Antonio Spurs.

"I'm going to shoot for Friday," O'Neal said. "Probably won't do anything tomorrow but get some more rest, get some more treatment. But if not tomorrow, I'm looking to come back Friday....

"I wanted to play all 82. I'm kind of upset, but I really wouldn't be doing us a service out there, limping around. I just want to get back right."

O'Neal played 81, 81 and 79 games in his first three NBA seasons. However, in his first three Laker seasons, he sat out an average of 28 games, mostly because of abdominal pulls.

Then he sat out 15 games in each of the last two seasons when foot injuries and summers off caused his weight to balloon.

O'Neal slimmed down before this season but left because of his calf injury in the 13th game of the season, a victory over the Chicago Bulls, and sat out the 14th. In one of their best efforts to date, his teammates blew out the Memphis Grizzlies, 121-89.

"That [a Friday return] is something that seems like a distant space in time for him to get himself right," Coach Phil Jackson said. "... We definitely miss him every game, but the reality is you don't want him back until he's healed and he's ready to play."

Not that Jackson was joining the happy throng saying the Lakers wouldn't need O'Neal tonight.

"We can't assume that," Jackson said. "The Washington Wiz have some young players that are real active and very aggressive, and the abilities of their young players are going to be noticed on the court...."


More was made of O'Neal's faceoffs with David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon, but his real rival was Alonzo Mourning, who went one pick behind him in 1992. After Mourning's impressive start, Hornet officials even claimed they would have taken him at No. 1.

O'Neal and Mourning had a polite-at-best relationship off the court until recent seasons, when Mourning's health became an issue and O'Neal turned supportive.

"I won't say I'm happy for him," said O'Neal of Mourning's sudden retirement. "But I'm happy that he's not pushing it too hard.

"I never understood why he came back in the first place, but now he can concentrate on his health, spend time with his family and hopefully he can get his little situation resolved. But he had an illustrious career. He was always an undersized at the center position. He was always a tough-nosed guy and I wish him well."

When Mourning's kidney disease was first diagnosed in 2000, anti-inflammatory medication was listed as a possible factor and O'Neal said he was going to reconsider his own usage. He now says he uses none at all.


Jackson on the firing of his former assistant and player, Bill Cartwright, as Chicago coach, by another of his former players, John Paxson, who's now the general manager:

"I know John Paxson had a hard decision that he had to make. I support both of those guys ... and I think they'll sort it out in Chicago when they have the opportunity....

"Any time you've got a bunch of [players] who are searching for a role or searching for a position on the team and they're high draft picks, there's going to be a lot of competition."



vs. Washington, 7:30, Fox Sports Net

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- KLAC (570), KWKW (1330).

Records -- Lakers 11-3, Wizards 6-8.

Record vs. Wizards (2002-03) -- 1-1.

Update -- The Wizards have struggled since their 3-2 start with their kiddie starting lineup of Gilbert Arenas (21), Larry Hughes (24), Jarvis Hayes (22), Kwame Brown (21) and Brendan Haywood (24). The newly signed Arenas went on the injured list Tuesday because of a stomach pull.

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