MIAMI The notion of not seeing Alonzo Mourning play basketball again is a difficult one for the Miami Heat to accept.
Mourning had surgery Thursday to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right knee and a quadriceps tear in the same leg. The injury, which he suffered Wednesday night in Miami's overtime loss at the Atlanta Hawks, will almost certainly keep Mourning sidelined for the remainder of the season.
And since Mourning insists this season is his last, that would mean his career is likely finished as well.
"I lost a brother," Heat center Shaquille O'Neal said Thursday night before Miami hosted the New Jersey Nets. "I lost a partner. I've lost a bodyguard."
Heat coach Pat Riley said Mourning would be in a hard cast for a month, then a soft cast for another month, followed by a period of rehabilitation that could last six more months.
Riley who often says he and Mourning are joined at the hip isn't counting the 15-year veteran out yet.
"My dream: That he will make the remarkable comeback and he will block Tim Duncan's dunk in the seventh game of the finals," Riley said. "If you keep that image in your mind and if it ever came true, then you'll know this is meant to be."
The 37-year-old Mourning is Miami's franchise leader in several categories, including games played, points scored, rebounds, blocked shots and minutes played.
MARBURY MISSING: Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury was away from the team again Thursday, and coach Isiah Thomas wasn't sure when he'd return. Marbury has missed six of the last nine games since his father died Dec. 2. Thomas hesitated when asked if he expected Marbury to bounce back and be a contributor. "He's really having a rough time," Thomas said. "I hope that he can come out of this because he's having a very difficult time." Marbury officially did not attend Thursday's practice because of a combination of flu-like symptoms and personal reasons. Thomas did not expect him to travel to Friday's game at Charlotte.
HEAT TO PROTEST SHAQ FOUL: The Miami Heat may protest what they believe was a scoring error in Wednesday night's overtime loss at Atlanta.
Shaquille O'Neal fouled out with 51 seconds remaining in Miami's 117-111 loss but statsheets distributed immediately after the game showed the Miami center with five fouls. The sheet was eventually revised to show O'Neal with six fouls, although those charting on the Miami bench also had O'Neal with five. Under league rules, the Heat will have 48 hours to protest to the NBA.
STUCKEY CLEARED TO PRACTICE: Rookie guard Rodney Stuckey was cleared to practice and play with the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, nearly two months after undergoing hand surgery. Detroit, which won at Boston on Wednesday night, hosts the Memphis Grizzlies tonight. The Pistons were off Thursday and don't expect to play Stuckey in a game until he practices with the team. Stuckey broke his left hand in Detroit's final exhibition game in late October after averaging 12.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals in the preseason.