PALM DESERT — And then there's the permanent ailment.
Shaquille O'Neal finished the regular season at 52.7%, a considerable jump from the 48.4% in his first Laker campaign, but still only the fourth-best showing in his six-year career. On the other hand, it marked the first season-to-season improvement in that category and he finished relatively strong, going 63.3% over the final 10 games and 67.2% the last five.
That has become the other tradition for him at the line. O'Neal, in another closing kick, made 63.5% of his free throws in the five games of 1996-97 between the return from a knee injury and the start of the postseason.
"I just like to raise my level of play for the playoffs," he said by way of explanation.
Said Coach Del Harris: "I'd have to agree. . . . Maybe his focus increases as the season goes on. It would be good if he could see that's an important thing at the beginning of the season as well."
How O'Neal's regular-season free-throw percentage compares to his postseason numbers in the NBA: 1996-97 (Lakers) RS--.484 PS--.610; 1995-96 (Orlando) RS--.487. PS--.393; 1994-95 (Orlando) RS--.533. PS--.571; 1993-94 (Orlando) RS--.554. PS--.471; 1992-93 (Orlando) RS--592. PS--None.