East notes: Pacers' O'Neal sees return for playoffs
By Roscoe Nance, USA TODAY
Posted 3/9/2006 10:12 PM Updated 3/9/2006 10:38 PM
Jermaine O'Neal doesn't want a postseason three-peat. That's why the Indiana Pacers' All-Star forward says he's not going to risk returning to the lineup too soon after suffering a torn left groin muscle Jan. 24.
O'Neal, projected to miss eight weeks, says he is targeting the playoffs for his return.
"I've gone into the playoffs injured the last two years," O'Neal says. "I want to make sure I get my groin totally healthy and be in shape when I get on the court again. My goal is the playoffs.
"I'm going to take my time. It's in the team's best interest and my best interest."
The Pacers are 9-8 without O'Neal, and they have gone to a more up-tempo style with him out of the lineup. O'Neal says he doesn't foresee a problem adjusting to the change, adding that he doesn't have to use the tail end of the season to regain his rhythm.
"Obviously, I want to get a rhythm," he says. "But I'm a pretty smart guy, so I'm able to adjust. It won't take me long to adjust to the new offense.
"I don't want to work my way back into it playing 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there."
The Pacers (30-28) are fifth in the East, four games behind the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers in the race for the home-court advantage in their potential first-round playoff matchup.
"We'd rather have him for as many games as possible," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle says. "It will be decided by his health. He has to be completely healthy. That has to be part of the plan."