INDIANAPOLIS -- Jermaine O'Neal is expected to miss at least eight weeks with a left groin tear, leaving the Indiana Pacers without their leading scorer and rebounder.
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
35 20.9 9.8 2.3 46.886 71.429
The news came Thursday, a day after the Pacers acquired sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic from the Sacramento Kings for the volatile Ron Artest.
O'Neal was hurt during the fourth quarter of Indiana's loss at Cleveland on Tuesday.
"When my injury happened, I knew it was going to be serious because of the actual pop in the area where I was having the most pain the last three or four weeks," he said.
The Pacers described the injury as "significant," but said it was doubtful he would need surgery.
"It's hard ... being in the situation we're in and finally almost getting a new start. ... It would have been a great opportunity to play with a guy like Stojakovic, and I think his ability helps everybody on our team," O'Neal said. "But I'm in a situation where the playoffs may be my best hope for getting back."
O'Neal did not practice Thursday but was on the court with his teammates and took several shots at the basket -- flatfooted -- as practice ended.
He said after practice he had likely come back too soon from a recent bout with pneumonia. It left him weakened, he said, forcing him to place too much stress on the groin area to protect an earlier injury to his ankle.
"When you are hurt and try to come back too early, you overcompensate in certain areas," O'Neal said. "The area where I got the tear is one of the areas that's been bothering me an awful lot, and it just got to the point my left ankle was hurting in the second half of games. I was really overcompensating at the hip area, which put a lot of stress on that [groin] area."
O'Neal leads the Pacers with 20.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Stojakovic has a 16.5-point scoring average. He is expected to join the team on Friday, though he won't play that night against the Cavaliers.
Indiana has a 21-20 record and is third in the Central Division.
"Anytime you can acquire a player with his abilities as a shooter and a scorer -- and we happen to think he's a better defender than people give him credit for -- we certainly need what he can bring us, especially with Jermaine out now," Carlisle said.
Artest, who was suspended by the NBA for instigating a brawl with Detroit fans early last season, averaged 19.4 points for the first 16 games this year. He was deactivated in early December after asking to be traded, however, and that distraction and the recurring injuries to other players started a steady slide for the Pacers.
"When things are going bad, you want to be there and play and help the team win," O'Neal said. "Unfortunately, that mind-frame ultimately hurt my team because I hurt myself by coming back too early."
O'Neal said he would let the groin heal completely; that he wouldn't make the same mistake by coming back too soon.
"It's torn. I don't have any choice," he said. "I can barely walk straight, so I know I can't play. ... The serious nature of this injury could be career-threatening down the road. That I don't want to do."
Carlisle said the loss of O'Neal at roughly the same time the Artest situation was settled was "bad timing."
"But injuries are going to happen. You don't have any control over it," the coach said. "We just have to hope long-range he's going to be OK. We've got to be ready to go the duration without him, by the sounds of it. So it's not an easy situation."
Scot Pollard, who played five years at Sacramento with Stojakovic, called him one of the best shooters in the NBA.
"It's pretty easy for him to fit in. We can always use a guy that can shoot better than 99 percent of the other guys in the league, or maybe all of them on a given night. What we need to do as a team is welcome him in and get him open.
"Finally, we can put that [Artest] behind us. But we still have plenty of problems on this team," Pollard said. "We need to figure out how to win games, and we're not doing that right now."