INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Shaquille O'Neal's regular season could be over. Now the Cavaliers hope the center they acquired for the postseason will be back in time for the playoffs.
O'Neal will undergo surgery Monday to repair his injured right thumb. He was examined Sunday by Dr. Thomas Graham at the National Hand Center in Baltimore. Graham will perform the surgery.
The Cavaliers said they will update a timeline for his return following the procedure, but a typical recovery period is 6 to 8 weeks. There are seven weeks left in the regular season.
"I think we'll be all right," point guard Mo Williams said before learning O'Neal needed surgery. "We'll weather the storm while the big fella gets some rest."
The Cavaliers acquired O'Neal last summer with an eye toward the postseason, and more specifically Dwight Howard and Orlando after the Magic eliminated Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals. O'Neal has played well for the Cavaliers this season, averaging 12 points and 6.7 rebounds in 53 games.
More importantly, he has played a big role in the Cavaliers going 4-1 against the Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers, two teams Cleveland struggled against last season and two teams likely to block Cleveland's path to a championship.
O'Neal injured the thumb Thursday at Boston when his shot was blocked by Glen "Big Baby" Davis with just over 7 minutes left in the first half.
Anderson Varejao will continue to start at center for the Cavs. Former backup Zydrunas Ilgauskas, traded to Washington for Antawn Jamison, is now a free agent following a buyout from the Wizards. Ilgauskas is free to sign with any team, but will have to wait until March 21 under NBA rules should he elect to re-sign with the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers are a more up-tempo team with O'Neal out of the lineup.
"With Shaq, you have to take advantage of his size and you have to go in the paint. He gets teams in foul trouble real easy," Williams said. "Without Shaq, it'll be more pick and rolls, more drive and kicks and more 3-point attempts. We'll spread the floor out and attack the rim in different ways."
O'Neal suffered a similar injury while playing with the Magic in 1995, when he missed the first 22 games of the season when he fractured the same thumb. Counting Monday's game against New York, the Cavaliers have 22 games left in the regular season.
Cleveland also recalled rookie Danny Green from Erie of the NBA Development League on Sunday. He was assigned to Erie on Feb. 24 and played in two games for the BayHawks.