Volume 96, Issue 85
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

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Big Shaq is still the Mack

Shooting from the Hick
Ryan Hickman
Sports Editor

With the NBA playoffs around the corner, the eyes of the entire league are not on Kobe Bryant, Tracey McGrady, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or even Yao Ming, but on a big toe.

That big toe belongs to the biggest player that has ever played in the NBA – Shaquille O'Neal, the most influential, game and series-shifting player in the NBA.

I know Kobe Bryant went off on his little scoring spree in the middle of the season and got the Lakers back on the playoff wagon, but the yellow and purple are in the midst of a run of nine out of 10 wins and 16 of the last 19, and the massive man in L.A. is back in the middle.

Shaq is not only the most pivotal and important player on the Lakers, but the entire league. In a recent interview with Indiana Pacers coach Isiah Thomas, he was asked about the dominance of the Western Conference in the NBA. Thomas flat out said that if Shaq was in the Eastern Conference, it would then automatically become the best conference because of his presence; that typifies how NBA brass feel about O'Neal.

Don't get me wrong, Shaq is not the most skilled player in the league and it could be debated whether he is even the best player, but he is the most physically dominating player the league has to offer. Although it doesn't happen very often, Kobe Bryant can be shut down on any given night with another great defender or scheme, but that can't be said about Shaq.

The only way to stop the big fella is if he himself has an off night and that's it. His body is an offensive foul.

Shaq came into the league strictly as a dunker, he now has a little flip hook and has consistently worked on his game and the muscle in his body. He's even evolved into less of a liability on the free throw line.

Now, for a moment, take Shaq off the Lakers. They are a good team with marginal role players and Samaki Walker in the middle looking a lot like the Orlando Magic in the East – one great scorer and some good players around him – but they couldn't last a seven game series in the West.

Delete Kobe off the team and they still have the monster man in the middle that opens up the perimeter for the L.A. role players to shoot, as he has done with the clutch Robert Horry.

In all reality, the Lakers would really not be three time defending champs without both O'Neal and Kobe together, but if that big toe is vexing, the Lakers will be exiting.

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