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NBA FINALS | Xs and O's RICK MAJERUS

Feeding Frenzy Continues

June 06, 2002|RICK MAJERUS

Sometimes, the Lakers are like a bunch of 10-year-olds, discovering a new toy.

Consider what happened at Staples Wednesday night. For the third consecutive game, they were suddenly in accord that their newest best friend should get the ball every time down the floor. And golly, look at what happens.

They are rewarded with the overwhelming results of his skill and expertise, as well as the benefits of playing with one of the most unselfish players ever to inhabit the basketball post.

I love Shaquille O'Neal's temperament. He just plays. He's so big and imposing that we forget that he just loves to play.

This was all Shaq, all the time. And for the Nets, it was just too much. No stunning analysis there. Read the box score line: 12 of 22 field goals, 12 of 21 free throws, 16 rebounds, four blocked shots and, amazingly, only two personal fouls.

Since murder is not an option in a civilized country, the Nets have to try something else to defend Shaq. The best way to defend the post is to keep the ball out of the post. And you can try doing that with extended defense--pick the Lakers up higher when they cross the time line or even press a lot more, or zone more. The Nets tried some zoning Wednesday night, and it was effective for short spurts, especially when the Lakers started jacking up some threes. If you are the Nets, better to face those than the Shaq Slam, also known as the Aristotle Air Hammer.

Of all the guys Byron Scott sent against Shaq, I thought the Stanford kid, Jason Collins, did the best. He gave a great effort, but was so overmatched he looked like a middleweight sparring with Mike Tyson. Collins is, for information sake, 7-feet and 260 pounds.

Collins showed the most energy, the best fight, but he doesn't have the savvy needed to do that. Nor, will he get a call. He's one of those guys who comes into a game and the three referees lick their lips. In order for Collins to get a call against Shaq, Shaq would have to mutilate him, which is entirely possible with at least three games left in the series.

Let's look at the other side of the coin, the play of the Nets' best player, Jason Kidd. At times, it looked like the Lakers were defying him to shoot behind the pick, and in the last four minutes of the game, he missed at least two critical threes.

He is a great player, a wonderful leader who is willing, and able, to load a lot of weight on his shoulders and carry this team. But in this opening game, it struck me that Kidd almost tried to do too much. And it also looked like the rest of the Nets were more than willing to let him.

If I were the Nets, I'd make one slight adjustment. They seemed a little three-point-shot happy, and while Kidd has a range that goes out to the three-point line, I think he is more effective working around picks a bit closer to the basket. I would pick for him a little lower than they did in this first game, to create better angles for him and give the Lakers less recovery time as Kidd goes to the basket.

The psychological aspect of this game should be addressed. The Lakers resembled a team very comfortable with the setting. They brought an attitude that they have been there and done that, which they have. New Jersey, on the other hand, appeared happy just to be there.

That being said, the Nets' comeback that made somewhat of a game out of it should be something they can build on for the next game. I didn't sense that the rest of the game was so much complacency by L.A. as it was good energy by New Jersey.

This game came down to what almost all basketball games come down to, the two most important elements:

* Shot allocation and shot distribution to the best players. Very simple. The Lakers got the ball to Shaq as much as they needed to, probably more, and won.

* The Lakers got to the free-throw line much more than the Nets (45 attempts to 26) and those trips for all those free shots are fast becoming the belle aire of Laker domain.

Mostly, the Nets have to figure out a way to play Shaq. And based on what I saw Wednesday night, with the weapons Byron Scott has at hand, he would not only earn an NBA title for doing that, but also a Nobel Prize in war strategy.

*

Rick Majerus, Utah basketball coach, will be The Times' guest analyst on the Lakers for the rest of the playoffs. Majerus, the fourth-winningest active coach in major college basketball, will begin his 14th season at Utah this fall.

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