INDEPENDENCE —Shaq is back.
After missing five games with a strained left shoulder, center Shaquille O’Neal was back on the practice floor Monday at Cleveland Clinic Courts and expects to play Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
“I’m looking to be back out there with the guys,” the 7-foot-1, 325-pounder said.
If O’Neal makes it through another practice today, he’ll be back in action against the Pistons, probably as a member of the starting lineup.
Asked how the 37-year-old center looked Monday, reserve swingman Jamario Moon said “big.”
“He looked big,” Moon repeated with extra emphasis. “Shaq looked good. He didn’t miss a beat.”
O’Neal, who did not speak to the media while he was sidelined, said he suffered the injury while blocking a shot by Miami’s Michael Beasley on Nov. 12 and joked that he repeatedly asked the Cavaliers for pain killers so he could keep playing.
“You can tell this is a great organization,” he said. “I wanted them to shoot me up a few times, but they said no. I’m from the old school: Just shoot me up.
“I was cursing and screaming and telling them to shoot me up, but they wouldn’t do it,” he added. “My hat’s off to the Cleveland Clinic for doing things above board.”
The Cavaliers, who went 4-1 without O’Neal to improve their overall mark to 10-4, are glad to have the 18th-year pro back on the court.
“Obviously, to have that presence on both ends of the floor is a positive,” coach Mike Brown said. “It was good to see Big Fella out there.”
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who will pass current general manager Danny Ferry for first place on the team’s all-time list for games played with three more appearances, started in O’Neal’s absence, but will likely go back to coming off the bench.
The two veteran centers are drastically different players —Ilgauskas makes his living on the perimeter, while O’Neal uses his physical style underneath —but the Cavaliers don’t envision much of an adjustment period.
“When Shaq is in the game, we call plays for Shaq,” Moon said. “When ‘Z’ is in the game, we call plays for ‘Z.’”
Added Brown: “Any time anybody misses a few games, it takes a little bit of time to get reacquainted. We’ll see. He’s a veteran guy. He’s got a great feel for the game. That’s what makes it a positive.”
It took the Cavaliers, who have won seven of their last eight and 10 of their last 12, some time to learn how to play with a dominant low post presence, but they posted impressive road victories over Orlando and Miami in O’Neal’s last two games.
For the season, the 15-time All-Star is averaging 11.3 points on .532 shooting from the field and .474 at the line, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists while playing 24.3 minutes a game.
“We’ve just got to go out and keep moving the ball and keep playing team ball,” O’Neal said. “We’ll be fine.”
O’Neal jokingly said his shoulder was at 27 percent, but made it clear he wanted to be at his best late in the regular season and for the playoffs.
Cavaliers small forward LeBron James was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time this season and 21st time in his seven-year career. James averaged an NBA-best 34.3 points on .583 shooting, 5.8 rebounds and 9.3 assists as the Cavaliers went 3-1. The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was honored in the West.
Detroit shooting guard Richard Hamilton sprained his ankle in the first game of the season and hasn’t played since, while small forward Tayshaun Prince has played in only three games due to a ruptured lower disk.
The Pistons (5-9) have been starting Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon in the backcourt, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva at forward and former Cavalier Ben Wallace at center.
Gordon (20.6 ppg) and Villanueva (16.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) were high-priced —some would say over-priced — free agent signings, while Jerebko (5.1 ppg) is a 6-10, 231-pound rookie from Sweden. Wallace came back to the Pistons, with whom he was a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year earlier in his career, after being traded from Cleveland to Phoenix in the O’Neal deal. The Suns then bought Wallace (3.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 11-of-22 FT), who looked washed up for most of his stay with the Cavaliers, out of the final year of his $15 million contract.
Detroit, which has lost four straight,, is coached by John Kuester, who as an assistant to Brown in Cleveland played a huge role in the Cavaliers’ improved offense last season.
“Any time I see Coach Kue, it’s a good thing —as long as when we do see each other, they end up losing,” Brown said.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.