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THE NBA

This Just Wasn't a Day When They Had Heart

February 15, 2001|MARK HEISLER

PHILADELPHIA — It's hard to follow Hollywood marriages from the other side of the country. By the time the word gets here that their favorite stars are splitsville, the couple is often trying to patch things up again.

So Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who are giving peace a chance, arrived to find themselves all over the back page of the afternoon paper in a St. Valentine's Day special, pictured inside a heart with a jagged rip separating them.

Shaq and Kobe are actually doing all the right things these days, although who knows what will happen if the Lakers lose more games and people get tense?

They lost one in grand style Wednesday to the 76ers, who had played the night before in Milwaukee, while the Lakers were prevailing a short bus ride away in East Rutherford, N.J..

Nevertheless, the 76ers looked like gazelles Wednesday, the Lakers like zombies. This raises another point: It ain't only Shaq and Kobe.

The Lakers have a lot of age and not much depth, so if they can't slow games down . . . and this is the second night of a back-to-back . . . and they're in against a high-energy team like the 76ers and a superstar like Allen Iverson, who has the metabolism of a hummingbird . . . forget the number.

Wednesday was one of those times. Bryant, the highest-energy Laker, was a virtual no-show, torched for 40 points by Iverson, who went the usual manic 40 minutes after going 43 the night before.

Not that this should come as a surprise. In his last 13 games, Iverson has been out for a total of 51 minutes.

"I understand that I used to be all about winning," he said afterward, "but I was just so young and I went about it the wrong way.

"I always felt I could do it myself, off my God-given ability. Never utilizing my team the way I am now. I never had a group of guys like this."

The 76ers have less star power than the Lakers but more depth and energy. Not that they had any to spare because they were going up against O'Neal without starting center Theo Ratliff and, they found out just before the game, without backup Matt Geiger, who had just been suspended by the league when his steroid test came back positive.

"I thought they took the sample in training camp," Coach Larry Brown said before the game, grinning. "They test them a lot faster in the Olympics. . . .

"Why couldn't they have waited until tomorrow morning? I just remember the '70s, we wouldn't have had anybody playing."

Why was this man laughing?

The 76ers have been short-handed so long, they don't worry about it. They just went six weeks without point guard Eric Snow and when he came back, they had the NBA's best record and were an unreal 22-6 on the road.

So a youngster named Nazr Mohammed started at center and scored a career-high 12 points, backed up by a hulk named Todd MacCulloch, whom you Pac-10 fans might remember, who got another eight. That made 20, which was only nine less than Shaq.

The crowd was 21,005, fifth largest in 76er history and the fans enjoyed themselves, chanting "MVP!" for Iverson and taunting their departed homeboy, Bryant, with chants of "KOHH-BE!"

"I think sometimes we forget the kids are young," Brown said. "They need to grow up and find themselves, just like our kid [Iverson]. . . .

"I remember Michael [Jordan] coming in the league. I remember Magic [Johnson] having some conflict with his coach [Paul Westhead, who was fired.] I remember the talk about Isiah [Thomas] early in his career. . . .

"The sad thing about Kobe's situation for me personally is, they accomplished what everybody in our league should be trying to achieve, winning a championship, doing it the right way. It takes so much away from our game when stuff is said, that there's a different set of priorities. . . .

"I don't know if that's true or not, but I dislike reading about it because I admire the way the kid plays and his talent. I love the fact that he wants to be the best, but the guy who's playing alongside of him [O'Neal], I admire the heck out of and I have since he was 13 years old. And he [O'Neal] is all about what's right in the league. . . .

"It troubles me when you hear that two of the great players in our league that already have a championship, all we're talking about is problems."

Ask Phil Jackson. It troubles him too. They're his problems, and, as Wednesday's game showed, not his only ones.

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