The Miami Heat are pummeling the Eastern Conference.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in danger of missing the playoffs.
More than midway through the season, it appears as if the Heat got the better of the Lakers when they traded Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round pick in exchange for Shaquille O'Neal, the most dominant player in the game.
The word out of Los Angeles was that O'Neal's effectiveness was on the decline. But last night he overwhelmed the Minnesota Timberwolves by scoring 33 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the Heat's 107-90 victory. The 7-1 O'Neal is fueling the Heat's seven-game winning streak and drive to the playoffs.
On a night when O'Neal sank 13 of 18 free throws, Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale's strategy of fouling O'Neal because his poor free-throw shooting failed miserably. This is often the tactic used on O'Neal late in games. It has been nicknamed "Hack-a-Shaq."
"It don't work,'' O'Neal yelled to McHale after hitting his final two free throws, according to the Miami Herald.
"I hate doing that to Shaquille because I really like him,'' McHale told the Herald. "At that point, we thought he might miss a couple and we could at least make it interesting. He made his free throws tonight.''
For the season, O'Neal is averaging 22.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.46 blocks per game. He is shooting 46.9 percent at the free-throw line.
The Kobe Bryant-led Lakers are 31-29 and losers of five of their last 10 games. They appear on the verge of surrendering the final playoff spot in the Western Conference to the Denver Nuggets.
Pacers' O'Neal Could Be Out
Indiana Pacers' coach Rick Carlisle indicated yesterday that Jermaine O'Neal, who sprained his shoulder on March 3, may be out an extended period, according to the Indianapolis Star.
"There's no official word yet, but I'm starting to be afraid this is more serious than we hoped," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said Thursday.
O'Neal has visited doctors in Los Angeles over the past week getting advice. Should the 6-11 forward need surgery it likely would mean the end of his season, the paper reported. He sustained the injury while attempting a dunk in a game against Denver.
The Pacers (30-30) are vying for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
Fortson Kicked Out of Practice
Seattle Supersonics forward Danny Fortson was thrown out of practice yesterday for screaming at coach Nate McMillan, according to the Seattle Times.
As the team scrimmaged, Fortson argued a call made by an umpire employed by the team to officiate inter-squad games. McMillan tried to intervene and Fortson lashed out against his coach until teammates pulled him aside.
Atop the Western Conference's Northwest division, Seattle (41-18) has lost two in a row.
One observer told the Times: "I've never seen that happen before. I've seen them disagree before, but nothing like that. We all have our days."
Webber Understands Boos
Philadelphia 76ers forward Chris Webber said he didn't blame the fans for booing the team's poor play in a 104-85 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday.
"It's funny, I heard the boos at the game, but you've got to understand, I wanted to boo, too," Webber told the Philadelphia Daily News after practice yesterday. "I don't take that personal, man. I'm an athlete, I'm a competitor. [There are] no expectations on me by anybody else that I probably haven't doubly wanted."
The five-time all-star was obtained two weeks ago in a trade with the Sacramento Kings and has since struggled to fit into the 76ers system.
"Booing doesn't bother me," Webber told the News. "I've been in the league 12 years and, like I said, I wanted to boo. It's just the way it goes. It's just been a learning experience as far as the transition. But everything else has been positive. [The people have] welcomed me. I'm a city kid [from Detroit] and it's good to be back in the city and see people."
Thomas Praises McMillan
New York Knicks president Isiah Thomas commended Seattle Supersonics coach Nate McMillan yesterday.
"Nate is one of the bright young minds in the game," Thomas said of McMillan, whose contract expires at the end of the season, according to the New York Post.
"He's done a masterful job of coaching, and my hat's off to him."
McMillan joins Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Flip Saunders and interim Knicks coach Herb Williams as the candidates the Knicks are reportedly considering for head coach next season.
Yesterday, Thomas praised Williams for guiding the club to a 4-1 record in their last five games, but said that all the candidates will be evaluated at the end of the season.
"[Williams' opportunity] is not necessarily a function of wins and losses," Thomas told the Post. "It's not like he's on trial or anything like that . . . I want to have the opportunity to go trough a thorough and proper evaluation of the candidates who could be applying for the job or people that we think could do the job and pick the best one."
Elsewhere, one of the candidates that Thomas is reportedly after, Jackson, may not return to coaching in the NBA, his agent told the Los Angeles Times.
"I guess it's a 50-50 deal," Todd Musburger said. "He could come back and he could not come back. I look at it as a fairly equal scale at this point."
Jackson, the former Lakers coach who left when the club declined to renew his contract, is being pursued again by the Lakers as well as the Knicks. The winner of nine NBA championships indicated earlier this year during a TV interview that he was intrigued by the idea of coaching again.