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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Shaq's Phoenix Debut

The big time game atmosphere for Shaquille O'neal's debut was clear from the moment ESPN switched to the NBA coverage. The Big Cactus--Shaq's chosen moniker, not mine--wasn't as good as he said he would be. He wasn't as bad as Bill Walton made him out to be either.

It's hard to fault Walton because Shaq's first half was about as bad as Walton had predicted. His first attempt was a point blank miss off the front of the rim. He also appeared lost in the offensive scheme at times.

Shaq didn't lack for effort. He left the game 3 minutes in, shortly after that first miss off the rim. When he returned with 4 minutes remaining in the first he fired up another shot. After missing that second attempt, he sprinted back in time to catch Lamar Odom and tip his attempt--though Odom's shot still went in, the hustle was evident.

Shaq eventually got his first bucket on a dunk. However it was a catch-22. He also got fouled. Shaq's Phoenix premier at the charity stripe would not be nice. O'neal missed horribly; the ref's decided it was funny and called a lane violation. We watch O'neal shot-put the ball again; this time so many guys are in the lane they decide to just jump it at mid-court. Thanks, ref's.

Shaq wrapped the first half with 3 fouls and a handful of points and boards. Walton let it be known how unimpressed he was after the half. He let it be known so clearly, in fact. Eternal ranter Stephen A Smith commented"You are making me sound like a nice guy"

Second half action was a little kinder to O'neal. He was a little more active and appeared to actually know what was happening in the Suns offense. On the defensive end he got a few blocks and altered a few more shots. Shaq even teamed up with Amare Stoudemire for a block. You could pretty much hear Mike D'antoni praying that was a microcosm of the next 30+ games.

One occasion where O'neal's hustle was a problem, he crossed the lane to help on Kobe Bryant. In the course of shooting his arm forward to block Bryant he hit teammate Raja Bell in the back of the head. Bell was dazed if not knocked out as he lay on the floor. By the time they got Bell up off the deck he had a racquet ball sized knot forming on the back of his head.

The Lakers maintained a lead most of the game but never got too far away. Shaq was the biggest focus for the home team; On the Lakers side Pau Gasol was impressive as a new addition. The Man I used to call Pau Ga-Soft caught the ball on the break and took it up over Stoudemire and Raja Bell. Having Gasol, a number one, playing as your two, or your three even, is great. In a situation that hopefully foreshadows some future fourth quarters. Kobe received all the focus as they worked for the final shot in the third. He then passed of to Gasol who calmly took his man across the lane for a running right hand hook.

Kobe clearly no longer feels he has to do everything. On a play late in the fourth Bryant was leading the break with a defender in front of him. Bryant would have taken that in and forced a shot from a tough angle in the past. Tonight he pulled the defender with him towards the wing, turned, and dished to Gasol who rose and threw it down.

Shaq will receive all of the attention coming out of this game, but Gasol once again showed why he will be the piece that puts that Lakers on top of the heap that is the Western Conference.

While the game was very entertaining. Shaq's post conference was, as usual. the most entertaining part of the evening.

When discussing his athleticism he said.

"I was the first big man to run up and down the court, over the last few years I get a couple of knick knack injuries and you earthlings start to think I can't run"

  • Apparently Shaq is no longer an earthling. He also appears to be unaware of any big men prior to 1990. I am guessing that if Wilt were alive he could probably beay Shaw in a foot race even now.

"Steve Nash told me to get my Randy Moss on"

  • The last thing Randy Moss needs while he is trying to negotiate a contract is his speed and Shaq's speed in the same sentence

While discussing his first three chapters(teams) in his book(career) he referred to them as "Dramaful"

  • I Misremember; is Dramaful a word?

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