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Give Shaq a Little Credit--Now There Is a Novel Idea

May 04, 1997|MARK HEISLER

See if you can stay with me on this one: Shaquille O'Neal returns better than ever, even improving his free-throw shooting dramatically, and turns the Lakers into an elite Western Conference team.

Meanwhile, Dennis Rodman and Wilt Chamberlain rip him in books and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar zings him in a magazine.

It's obviously a trend. Shaq bashing is such a staple of the publishing business, famous authors may pick it up next. Here's what the best-seller list could look like by the start of next season:

1. SHAQ PARK, Michael Crichton. Foolhardy general manager clones the mightiest force in basketball, only to see his creations chasing the customers up the aisles.

2. A TIME TO RAP, John Grisham. Attorney in tiny Mississippi town defends visiting Los Angeles multimedia star charged with violating local noise pollution ordinance.

3. THE LAST COACH, Mario Puzo. O'Neal crime family is suspected when vest belonging to missing coach Brian Hill is found with a fish wrapped in it.

4. SHAQ PALISADES, Jackie Collins. Novelization of risque TV series (on Fox, where else?) chronicles amorous adventures of large home wrecker in affluent Southern California community.

5. BONFIRE OF THE INANITIES, Tom Wolfe. Famed satirist casts jaundiced eye at commercialism, manifest in autobiography of basketball star, published when he is 21.

By now, you wouldn't think it was necessary to assert this, but O'Neal is getting a bad deal.

If Shaq cared, which Wilt questions, he couldn't have played much better than he did against the Portland Trail Blazers, when he averaged 33 points, led all rebounders by eight, all shot blockers by four, finished fifth in assists and shot 64% on free throws, compared to 48% during the season.

If Shaq doesn't have a rolling hook, like the one Kareem says he could teach him, he does all right with that jump hook he refined under Pete Newell.

Rodman's complaint is, of course, absurd on its face. Imagine being called a "whore" by a man who wears wedding dresses to book signings and has a World Championship Wrestling hookup.

For the Lakers, it would be better if everyone was as star-struck, indolent and uncoachable as O'Neal is supposed to be.

At the moment, they look more like the team of some unspecified future than a champion. Their guards are fragile. Robert Horry (99 minutes vs. Trail Blazers, 28% from the floor, 14 points, 17 rebounds) is caddying for Jerome Kersey (105 minutes, 50%, 24 points, 31 rebounds).

Meanwhile, there's Shaq, playing his heart out, even as the Trail Blazers roll up a 31-point lead in Game 3.

With Shaq and Elden Campbell, now a dominating tandem, the Lakers have become a postup-only team. Maybe it was because the Trail Blazers single-covered them, but it's not the new Showtime. Of course, Jerry West, who is suspected of having a Kobe Bryant poster on his bedroom wall, thinks they already have the future answer on the roster.

In the meantime, here's a suggestion for the other Lakers: Whatever Shaq is doing wrong, you do it too.


As one who wrote off the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic, I can only invoke the words of "Saturday Night Live's" great Emily Litella: "Never mind."

The upstart seventh-seeded teams forced Game 5s against the heavily favored Seattle SuperSonics and Miami Heat. In the postseason, when big men take over and games get even slower, they used small lineups and played exciting, up-and-down basketball of a kind nearly everyone had forgotten existed.

Sun Coach Danny Ainge ruined George Karl's week (again) with parlor-trick, three- and four-guard lineups, daring to assign 6-foot-10 Detlef Schrempf to 6-3 Rex Chapman, a shooting guard who never used to shoot well enough, which is why he's playing for his fourth team in six seasons.

As expected, it was no contest, except the other way around. After four games, it was Rex 105, Det 64.

Included was Chapman's 42-point explosion in Game 1 and his three-point basket while flying across the sideline in the final seconds of regulation to tie Game 4.

"When that went in," said Karl, "I thought the basketball gods were against us. I couldn't believe it."

A 0-13 start turned into one of the most thrilling seasons the Suns ever had, even if they lost Game 4 in overtime and Game 5 Saturday at Seattle.

Meanwhile, if what doesn't kill the SuperSonics makes them stronger, they'll be back to form soon. However, with the Houston Rockets next, that isn't the way the betting is going.


Try this for a turnaround: The Heat rolls up a 37-point lead in Game 1 and a 32-point lead in Game 2, and routs the Magic twice.

Horace Grant rips the medical staff for misdiagnosing his knee injury. Penny Hardaway does another chorus of how the Orlando media mistreats him ("There've been a few good articles, but the bad have been far more harmful than the good articles. . . . A lot of the media don't give me the respect I deserve") and suggests he may leave when he's a free agent in 1999.

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