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"We did make changes in the offseason to

Associated Press Published: December 26, 2000 12:00 AM

"We did make changes in the offseason to become a bigger team, not knowing if we would have a healthy 'Z,'" said Cavs coach Randy Wittman. "I am confident we will have guys who can step up."

Ilgauskas, the Cavs' first true center since Brad Daugherty almost a decade ago, has been plagued by foot problems since Cleveland picked him in the 1996 draft.

He sat out all of 1995 in Lithuania because of a broken right foot and was sidelined for what would have been his rookie season after having surgery.

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On Friday night, Ilgauskas broke the same bone in his left foot that caused him to miss most of the last two seasons. In five years, he has broken bones in both feet twice and has undergone four surgeries.

General manager Jim Paxson said that tests on Ilgauskas' left foot will be conducted over the next two weeks to determine whether the 7-foot-3 center will need surgery.

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"At this point, we don't know if he's out for the season," Paxson said.

If he is done for the year, it's a good bet the Cavs are, too.

With Ilgauskas in the middle, Cleveland ran out to a 15-9 record and was regarded as the surprise team of the NBA. Without him Saturday, Orlando's frontcourt dominated for a 111-92 win.

"Obviously, this is a blow to 'Z' as well as the team," Wittman said. "This kid has gone through a lot, and he will have to go through more. He has played very well for us."

Ilgauskas, 25, averaged 11.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots in the first 24 games this season.

After sitting out all of last season and playing just five games in the lockout shortened 50-game 1998-99 season, the Cavs were confident he could lead them to the playoffs.

He did that in 1997-98 _ his lone healthy season _ by averaging 13.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots while playing in all 82 games.

Since Ilgauskas joined the team, the Cavs are 64-47 with him and 52-78 without him.

That's because he gives the Cavs something most NBA teams can't match _ a nimble low-post scorer who rebounds, blocks shots and also draws double teams to free up outside shooters.

Forwards Robert Traylor, Chris Gatling, Clarence Weatherspoon and J.R. Reid will fill in for now, although Wittman said he did not know who would start tonight against Central Division-leading Charlotte (19-9).

Eventually it could be rookie 7-footer Chris Mihm, who's on the injured list with a sprained right ankle.

"I think he's close to coming back," Wittman said, "but we're not going to rush him."

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