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Xs and O's RICK MAJERUS

Nets Just Can't Deal With Shaq

June 08, 2002|RICK MAJERUS

This is how bad it was for New Jersey, which flat-out got shellacked: It's tough to win a game once, much less twice, but that's exactly what they Lakers did. And they did it easily.

The Nets made a run, right after Kobe Bryant missed a dunk. But this time, unlike Game 1, the Lakers just gathered themselves, took a deep breath and regained control. For the Nets, it was one of the bigger non-run runs I've ever seen. It wasn't like New Jersey had anything to do with it. The Lakers just got a little complacent, got full of themselves. But then, yawn, shift gears, back in control, end of game.

I like Derek Fisher a lot. He had a lot to do with what happened. He did a great job on Jason Kidd, especially in the first half. He was like some kind of adhesive, like the stickum wide receivers put on their hands. He couldn't have gotten any closer to Kidd if he'd been the resin.

And then there was Shaquille O'Neal, taking on one of the more porous defenses of our time. Republicans are talking about Tom Daschle being this big obstructionist. Well, New Jersey, sign him up, because there isn't anybody on your team obstructing anything that Shaq is doing.

Nobody puts a body on Shaq. They've got three guys to play him, which means 18 fouls, and I think they better use all 18. Looks like the ship is sinking anyway, so why not try? Shaq's got them so intimidated it's silly. I think they got one decent shot deep in the post all night, and that was Aaron Williams, who got really bold and went to the basket--when Samaki Walker was in.

I loved the story the other day where Shaq was asked about Todd MacCullouch and called him "respectable." Shaq played it just like the Zen Master taught him. Respectable? Hell, he threw the guy a bone and now the dog has no bite. MacCullough took it like somebody had just named him all-world or something.

New Jersey needs a new plan to cover Shaq. The Nets have to fight him for that real estate. Right now, Shaq's like a condo developer who just muscled his way onto the Promenade in Santa Monica and has set up shop. Nobody gave him the land. He just took it.

The Nets are getting no pressure on Shaq from their post players. They might as well go to the mascot. He'd do better. They also have to make him work defensively. Right now, he is like a guy in a lounge chair on a cruise.

The Nets are also making it easy on the Lakers because they are applying no pressure on the perimeter. The Lakers, who are awfully good at moving the ball quickly and getting it in to Shaq in scoring position, are having a field day. Quarterbacks in the NFL should have this much time to get set up. Brett Favre would play 10 more years if he were left alone this much.

The Lakers are so good at so many things, that you really have to pressure them, obstruct them, play all out all the time. They want a score and know how to get it. They always know where and when their points are coming.

The other side of the coin is New Jersey. The Nets are trying to do the hardest thing in basketball. They are trying to run a fastbreak, but when the fastbreak isn't there, they are trying to immediately change tempo and run a rhythm offense to the second side of the floor.

Unless the Nets can find a great deal of energy at home, this one is nearing the victory lap. But I'm glad I've been along for the ride, because it has changed me.

I've decided that I will now take films of Shaq shooting free throws and show them to my Utah team. This remains the most amazing part of this entire postseason. We all knew the Lakers were great and could repeat. But did we have any idea, one iota of an inkling, that (take a deep breath here) SHAQ COULD SHOOT FREE THROWS!

Look at the form. There is none. He is the antiChrist of the foul line. Yet those babies keep going down.

He reminds me of one of those senior citizens in Florida, driving along the highway, hands in a death lock at 10 and 2 o'clock, poised for that bold move from the far left lane.

He is the living example of the power of concentration. There used to be seven wonders in the world. Now there are eight.

*

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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