Unsure of what lies ahead, Coach Del Harris is hoping to cut the playing time of Shaquille O'Neal to about 34 minutes a game, which would be a career low for the superstar center. And also no problem.
"That's fine," O'Neal said. "We have a lot of weapons on this team. We're nine deep. We practically have two starting teams."
Harris' thinking is, eliminating a few minutes a game would head off some of the battle fatigue for a player regularly double-teamed, making O'Neal fresher for the playoffs. If Sean Rooks and Elden Campbell produce as they did late last season, the Lakers will be three-deep at center, even if Campbell retains his job at starting power forward.
"In certain games, he has to go," Harris said of O'Neal. "But in general it's good for all the guys, if we have a deep team, to keep some of the starters in the lower 30s [minutes], as opposed to the higher 30s.
"I'd like to keep it down there in games that allow it. But that's all theory. In the heat of the battle, you do what it takes to win the game. In a perfect world, he'd play about 34 and the backups would get the other 14."
O'Neil averaged 37.9, 39.8, 37 and 36 minutes in four seasons with the Orlando Magic and then 38.1 in his first Laker campaign, although he played in only 51 games, because of injuries.
Twenty-four players around the league logged more time--but no centers.
A night after a blowout victory over the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers lost a 93-91 decision to the Phoenix Suns on Friday at America West Arena as Danny Manning scored 24 points and made the game-winning basket on a 18-foot jumper with 2.9 seconds left.
The Lakers got 27 points and 15 rebounds from O'Neal. Robert Horry, in his first game in Phoenix since being traded to the Lakers, added 16 points and 10 rebounds and Campbell also had 10 boards.
Antonio McDyess, acquired from the Nuggets on Oct. 1, had 13 points and eight rebounds in his first Sun appearance. This was the exhibition opener for Phoenix.
Van Exel was in Oklahoma on Friday to see his personal physician, who agreed with the previous diagnosis of the bruised bone in the left knee. No timetable is set for Van Exel's return. . . . Rumeal Robinson, a Laker for about half of last season, has a good chance to stick in Detroit, since the Pistons waived Randolph Childress on Thursday, apparently so Childress could sign with a team in Turkey. Robinson would be the fifth guard in the Piston backcourt, the same role he had for the Lakers before they sent him to the Phoenix Suns as part of the Horry-Cedric Ceballos trade in January.
After opening the exhibition schedule with games on consecutive nights, the Lakers don't play again until next Friday, against the Clippers in St. Louis, the start of a four-game trip. They will practice in Los Angeles until then.