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Dear Cleveland: Don't panic ... yet

There's a reason no one is panicking in Cleveland over Shaquille O'Neal's thumb injury. There's a reason LeBron James isn't walking around with a furrowed brow and Danny Ferry isn't making late-night phone calls to Mikki Moore's agent.

It's because the Cavs don't need Shaq ... yet.

Just watch the film of last week's win over Boston to see why. With the immobile Shaq in the game, Boston's D was stifling. The Celtics built a 13-point lead and made O'Neal (minus-10 in 12 minutes of play) a liability.

As soon as Shaq went out, the game changed. Cleveland's mobile bigs (Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison) did, well, exactly what all mobile bigs do to Boston. They passed and cut and moved without the ball and created easy shots. Varejao was especially annoying, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds and dozens of frustrated glares from Kendrick Perkins.

No, the Cavs don't need Shaq against Boston. They don't really need him against Atlanta, either. If Zydrunas Ilgauskas re-signs (the first day he's allowed to rejoin Cleveland is March 21), he'll be enough to handle the Hawks.

Sure, the Cavs will need Shaq against Orlando, and they'll need him against the Lakers. But for now, they'll do fine without him.

If the playoffs began today, the Cavaliers would be looking at a potential second-round matchup with the Celtics, with Orlando waiting in the wings for the conference finals. Those games generally don't begin until mid-May, giving O'Neal two-and-a-half months to heal.

So, follow the lead of your team, Cleveland. Don't panic.

(All stats and records are through Feb. 28.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 1
Ron Artest is bringing the D recently. In the last two weeks, Artest held Corey Maggette, Paul Pierce, Rudy Gay and Shawn Marion below their season scoring average. And on Sunday, Artest grabbed six steals and forced Carmelo Anthony to turn the ball over a season-high eight times. Somewhere, Mitch Kupchak is smiling.
 
2Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 2
After scoring at least 18 in three of his last four games, Jamison's focus now is playing championship-level defense. "I don't want to be a liability on the defensive end," Jamison told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I want to be able to say that, even though I'm not the best defensive player in the league, when it comes down to it, I can defend and make it difficult for our opponents."
 
3Orlando Magic
Last Week: 4
We can officially remove the "bust" tag from J.J. Redick. The former Duke star not only chipped in 15 points in Sunday's win over Miami, but he also played well enough to keep Vince Carter stapled to the bench in crunch time. Redick (9.4 points for the season) should get plenty of looks from long range this week: Philadelphia (30th), Golden State (25th) and New Jersey (28th) rank at the bottom of the league in defending the three-point line.
 
4Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 5
The Nuggets, who have split two games at the Lakers this season, claim they don't need home-court advantage to beat L.A. in the playoffs. But home has been good to Denver, especially in closing out games. The Nuggets have won 40 straight at the Pepsi Center when they have held the lead going into the fourth quarter.
 
5Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 9
Erick Dampier might want to get used to that seat on the bench. With Dampier nursing a finger injury, Brendan Haywood has gotten comfortable as the starting center, averaging 11.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in his first eight games in Dallas.
 
6Utah Jazz
Last Week: 3
Utah Jazz (38-21)
For the second straight season, Utah racked up 10 wins in February. March, however, doesn't look too inviting. The Jazz will play 17 games this month -- including 10 on the road, where they are 14-13 this season -- and four sets of back-to-backs.
 
7Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 8
Phoenix Suns (37-24)
In the West, only the Lakers have more conference wins than Phoenix (23). The Suns, who had their five-game winning streak snapped Sunday at San Antonio, will have that conference success tested again this week with games against Denver and Utah.
 
8Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 10
Suddenly, the Hawks are struggling to finish games. Atlanta, which is 32-3 when leading with five minutes left and 35-4 when leading with three minutes left, blew late leads in losses to the Warriors and Mavericks last week. The Hawks, however, did pull out an OT home victory against Milwaukee on Sunday.
 
9Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 7
One reason the Thunder passed on a big man at the deadline was the development of Serge Ibaka. The 6-10 rookie scored 27 points in OKC's two wins last week, including a 13-point, 10-rebound effort against Toronto. "He can hit turnaround jump shots, he can score, but his role on this team is to come out and play hard on the defensive end, protect the basket and the paint for us," Kevin Durant told The Oklahoman.
 
10Boston Celtics
Last Week: 6
Doc Rivers said the Celtics play like they are bored. Perkins says Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett are bored. Maybe the Celtics, who are only 13-16 since Christmas, would be having more fun if they weren't blowing big leads to the Cavs and allowing 41 free throws in a home loss to the Nets.
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