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LAKERS NOTEBOOK: O'NEAL GRINS, BEARS PAIN; TO SEE FOOT SPECIALIST TODAY IN L.A.

Byline: Howard Beck Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS - Shaquille O'Neal is suffering. His injured right foot won't let him earn his paycheck. His team is falling apart around him. The losses are piling up. And he can do nothing about it.

He can't even cheer on his team from the bench - too proud to be seen as mortal.

``I can't let people see Superman like this,'' O'Neal said Wednesday, as he sat out his third consecutive game. ``It's an ego thing.''

O'Neal will visit a foot specialist today in L.A. to further determine the extent of his injury. In the meantime, all he can do is grimace and watch.

``For me, it really can't get any worse, mentally and physically. It can only get better,'' O'Neal said. ``Hopefully, it gets better at the right time.''

Although O'Neal's foot has improved slightly - three trouble spots are down to one - it's still painful even to walk. ``So just imagine jumping and doing all that other springing and stuff.''

O'Neal even starting taking Indocin again - the powerful anti- inflammatory he'd sworn off because he believes it caused Alonzo Mourning's kidney ailment.

``It just makes me realize that I'm getting older,'' said O'Neal, who will be 29 in March. ``I don't heal like I used to heal. Usually when your medicine doesn't work, there's something wrong with it. The medicine hasn't been working, but it's (messing) my stomach up, it's killing me.''

Not taking the Indocin is no longer an option, he said.

``I have to,'' he said. ``I only take it when I have to.''

O'Neal says he's neither pessimistic nor optimistic about today's tests - ``I'm not feeling any 'mistic'' - but is putting the best possible spin on the Lakers' performance without him.

``They're doing OK. I think it will be good for the guys,'' he said. ``They always need to know how to play without me. Other guys are getting opportunities to do certain things that they want to do, so it's good. . . . Once they've mastered the art of playing without me, then once I come back, then we'll be a better team.

``Hopefully I won't have any knick-knack injuries going into March- April-May. If we can catch that tailwind, we'll be fine. But I will never complain. I have a great life, I had it great last year.''

--More pain: Horace Grant woke up Wednesday with swelling in his right knee and, despite a flurry of last-minute treatment, was unable to play.

Grant had fluid drained from his bursa sac 90 minutes before tipoff in hopes the swelling would be reduced enough to regain his flexibility.

He's questionable for Friday's home game against Charlotte.

``I hate needles, but I thought I could give it a go, and they drained the thing out and it's still swollen,'' Grant said. ``If the swelling goes down and I go out and warm up a little bit and it feels sufficient to be out there, then I'm going to be out there.''

--Clockwork: Vancouver's protest of the Lakers' Jan. 15 victory was denied by commissioner David Stern. The Lakers beat the Grizzlies 113-112 in overtime when O'Neal hit a jumper and was fouled by Ike Austin just before the final buzzer.

The Grizzlies contended the game clock malfunctioned with six-tenths of a second remaining, giving the Lakers an extra three-tenths of a second and allowing O'Neal to take the shot.

Based on videotape, the NBA concluded the clock did freeze, but Stern ruled the malfunction was inadvertent and ``did not prejudice the play of the game.''
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:590
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