Shaquille O'Neal believes the Los Angeles Lakers made him The Big Scapegoat.

"It was just guys upstairs who can't step up and do what they're supposed to do. They've got to have a scapegoat, and they know that I'm strong enough to be that scapegoat," said O'Neal, traded by the Lakers to Miami in July.

"Who's going to be the scapegoat now? Who are they going to point at now?" O'Neal said with a laugh.

The Heat's new center was back in Santa Monica, Calif., yesterday to host a youth basketball camp.

O'Neal feels that he was unfairly blamed for the Lakers' failure to win the NBA title the past two seasons -- including this year's loss to Detroit -- after winning three in a row.

"My thing is, if I'm going to be the scapegoat, let me be in charge and let me do it my way," said O'Neal, whose friction with teammate Kobe Bryant was well documented. "So if I'm in charge and everybody knows I'm in charge and we're doing it my way and it don't work, then they can, 'Say hey, you did it.'

"And I'll say, 'You know what, I did it.' "

Despite their differences while with the Lakers, O'Neal said he was pleased that a sexual assault charge against Bryant was dropped earlier this month.

"I'm glad that he got off. You never want to see a player of his caliber go down for something like that," O'Neal said. "Now he can go back to being a family man."

After the Lakers announced that Phil Jackson wouldn't be retained as coach, O'Neal asked to be traded. Since Los Angeles dealt Gary Payton to Boston and Karl Malone may decide to play elsewhere, Bryant likely will be the Lakers' only remaining marquee name next season.

Talking about the breakup of the team this summer, O'Neal said: "A lot of people are going to try to make it a Kobe and Shaq thing. No male is that important to me, for me to be worried about.

"All the stuff that they say is controversy is not controversy to me. I know how to play it well. I know what to say, when to say it, and how to do it. It's called marketing."

* WNBA: In a possible Western Conference finals preview, Nikki Teasley closed out the regular season with 21 points to lead the visiting Los Angeles Sparks past the Seattle Storm, 83-80.

The game had no impact on playoff positioning for either team, but both squads played a high intensity game in front of 14,884 -- the largest crowd in Seattle Storm history.

All five Sparks starters scored in double figures to help Los Angeles take the season series 3-1. . . .

Yolanda Griffith scored a season-high 23 points, helping the Sacramento Monarchs defeat the visiting Houston Comets, 68-48, and clinch the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.

Griffith shot 8 of 10 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free throw line in the Monarchs' second victory in three days against Houston, which missed the playoffs for the first time in WNBA history.

* SOCCER: Arsenal stretched its record unbeaten streak in the Premier League to 46 games, but the 2-2 tie with Bolton in London ended its perfect league record this season.

U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel helped Blackburn beat Portsmouth, 1-0. Substitute Matt Jansen scored in Manager Mark Hughes's first game with Blackburn.

Bolton substitute Henrik Pedersen scored in the 85th minute, denying Arsenal a chance to equal its best start season -- it won its first six games of the 1947-48 season. Arsenal (5-0-1) had been the only team with a perfect record.

"We didn't find our usual technical level today," Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger said. "From the start our passing was either too long or too short, and when you start off like that it is difficult from then on."

* TENNIS: Ricardo Mello of Brazil upset third-seeded Mario Ancic of Croatia, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, advancing to the final at the Millennium International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, Fla., where he'll face top-seeded Vince Spadea.

Spadea easily defeated Jeff Salzenstein, 6-1, 6-3, last night.

* CANOE/KAYAK: The Whitewater Slalom National Championships, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at the Dickerson (Md.) Whitewater Course, instead will start at 8 a.m. because of the storm-related rise of water levels in the Potomac River.

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports

Bolton's Jay-Jay Okocha, center left, battles Arsenal's Edu during a 2-2 tie that extended Arsenal's league record unbeaten streak to 46 games.