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SERIES REPORT | BLAZERS NOTES

O'Neal Is Reason for Their Pain

May 30, 2000|LONNIE WHITE and SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER

The main reason why the Portland Trail Blazers are one loss away from elimination is Shaquille O'Neal. Plain and simple.

Portland Coach Mike Dunleavy knows this and Monday he complained again about what he believes is favorable treatment for O'Neal from the officials.

"He's not Wilt Chamberlain yet; he can foul out of a game between now and when he retires," Dunleavy said of O'Neal, who has played 93 minutes over the last two games and picked up only five fouls. "There's that issue and then there's spacing. Keeping [O'Neal] from being illegal."

Forward Scottie Pippen was not in any mood for excuses on why the Trail Blazers have not been able to stop O'Neal.

"You didn't hear me say it, did you?" Pippen asked when told of Dunleavy's gripe about O'Neal playing an illegal defense. "I didn't say it.

"We have to just come out and play. That's pretty much it. . . . We realize right now that we are a game away from elimination. We have to go out and make the best of it."

To say Arvydas Sabonis has had trouble with O'Neal during the series would be the understatement of the playoffs. Portland has had to turn to Brian Grant or Rasheed Wallace to match up with O'Neal and both are power forwards.

Grant is frustrated because he has had to sacrifice his game to play in the middle.

"I'm not a center, my natural spot is at the four," he said. "I do the best job I can do but I do not match up size-wise. . . . I can't get to the board. He's big. All he has to do is stand there and I have to try and get around him. I'm not going to be as effective as I would be if I was at the four as far as rebounding and taking a man offensively."

Dunleavy agrees with Grant but said the Trail Blazers have few other options.

"We've needed Brian's bulk to go against Shaq," he said. "Sabonis has not been able to stay in the game to play the guy. So what happens is he's out and we need all of Brian's fouls on [O'Neal]. We would like to have him play the power forward spot, which is his natural position and where he has a chance to be a more dominant player."

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Damon Stoudamire has had his moments in the series when his quickness and scoring ability has given the Lakers fits. He just hasn't had enough of them.

"I don't even have anything to say on that," he said. "I sure wish I could do more."

Because he has been exploited by the bigger Laker guards, Stoudamire sat out key stretches in Games 3 and 4 as Portland tried other defensive matchups.

"It's too late to make changes now, but I don't think defense is the problem because at the end of the day, if you don't put the ball in the hole you don't win games," Stoudamire said.

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Reserve guard Greg Anthony, after Dunleavy shortened his rotation Sunday and essentially played only Bonzi Wells and Grant off the bench, with two other Trail Blazers getting a combined five minutes:

"We have to stay together. We can't have any dissension internally, because we have enough adversity externally."

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