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.)
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