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."