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At Least Make Him Wear His Hard Hat

November 15, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

The last time the Lakers played at the Forum, after the game, Shaquille O'Neal almost brought down the house. He tore apart the bathroom in the Laker locker room, performing Shaq-fu on a mirror, a stall door and anything else he could get his hands on, leaving the room looking like a, well, shack.

Before or after tonight's game against the Clippers, I hope Del Harris and Jerry West will have a word with Mr. O'Neal on this subject, but not because of Shaq's impression of Tim Allen in "Home Improvement," and not because the big guy let off some steam, since the Lakers wished, frankly, that Vlade Divac had shown such emotion once in a while.

No, that's not the reason Bob Vila O'Neal needs to cool it.

He needs to be careful because some of the greatest athletes in history have suffered self-inflicted injuries this way, by blowing their tops, punching walls and kicking stalls. This is how bones get broken. And right now, particularly with Cedric Ceballos sidelined, the Lakers need a center with a broken bone about as much as they need a Laker Girl with a mustache.

Unhappy with officials, for ignoring what he believes are obvious fouls, O'Neal, who gets treated by defenders the way luggage gets treated by airports, said angrily of the refs, "They're the only ones in this league who can stop me."

Mmmm, afraid not, Shaq.

You can stop you.

Be careful with those hands, man. Remember, it was only last fall that, after an exhibition game against Miami, a broken right thumb led to O'Neal's missing the first 22 games of the Orlando Magic's season. The whole team lost only 22 games all season. Not those 22, but every loss counts, especially with home-court advantage in the NBA playoffs hanging in the balance.

I doubt that Harris, West or any Laker likes to look too far into the future, but if I were they, I would shudder at the thought of the Houston Rockets or the Seattle SuperSonics having a home-court edge on the Lakers in a best-of-seven playoff series. The Forum might be a dump, but it's our dump. We need to fill those ugly orange seats, four times per series.

Speaking of the playoffs, how about an opening round between . . .

The conference's No. 1 team. (The Lakers?)

And . . .

The conference's No. 8 team. (The Clippers?)

Wouldn't that be a wild way to spend the last two weeks of April? Pay your taxes, catch the April 18 game at the Sports Arena between the Lakers and Clippers to see where they stand in the playoff standings, then sit back and wait for the season to end April 20, before asking yourself the question all America will be asking: "The Clippers in the playoffs?"

What a concept.

Be like Pauly Shore, doing "Hamlet."

OK, so maybe it won't happen. But it sure has been a gas so far, to see this Ross Perot of a basketball team come out scrapping. Even if they aren't quite ready yet to overtake the Lakers and SuperSonics at the top of the division, the more I see of Portland, Sacramento, Phoenix and Golden State, the better I can see Los Angeles having two teams in the Pacific Division's top three.

After six games, the Clippers easily could have been 5-1. (The Clippers, 5-1!) They had the New York Knicks stiff as bricks, if only Bo Outlaw could have plunked one last dunk or a couple more free throws, near the end. Poor Bo at the charity stripe. He makes Shaquille O'Neal look like Calvin Murphy. But he belongs on that floor, because let me tell you something: If every Clipper in history hustled the way Outlaw hustles, they would have won 10 more games per year.

What impresses me most about this season's Clippers is, not whom they are winning with, but whom they are winning without. Brian Williams is missing, Brent Barry is injured and Loy Vaught is struggling. A case could be made that these are the Clippers' best players, though I'm sure some would disagree. Williams is their best center, Barry their best passer and Vaught their best rebounder, in my eyes.

But so what?

Malik Sealy is playing some great ball. Stanley Roberts is making his presence felt. Rodney Rogers is reminding people he can play. Lamond Murray is learning that, like Eddie Jones (last year), Toni Kukoc and others, a good player can still get serious minutes, coming off the bench. Pooh Richardson runs the show, and so far, the show has been a success, no pooh.

Tonight they play in Shaq's house.

This could be an NBA playoff preview. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.

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