Shaquille O’Neal sat contentedly on a large purple practice ball Monday afternoon, 21 games from the playoffs, a most-valuable-player run and a third consecutive championship in him yet, perhaps.
That depends largely on the toe. It’s the toe that grips a team and a city, and that is why O’Neal watched and rested and 10 teammates ran, and why Coach Phil Jackson and his practices have taken an edgier spirit in recent days. Nearing the end of a harmonious season, the first in years for the Lakers and their famous egos, Jackson’s grandest accomplishment yet might be to have five healthy players on the floor and pointed in the same direction come mid-April.
Samaki Walker, once his starting forward, wore a wrap on his hyper-extended right elbow. A team physician told Walker on Sunday that he would need another week to heal, putting his recovery closer to Sunday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.
Rick Fox, with a grimace on his face, pulled back the bottom of his shorts to reveal a thick, blue bruise on his right knee. Kobe Bryant’s left hand hurts only when he picks up a basketball. Brian Shaw has a sore right shoulder.
“Right now, I’m on emergency duty,” Shaw said, and then laughed. “I guess nothing’s changed, actually.”
About a month has passed since O’Neal reworked his shoes and orthotics. The pain has eased some but not enough, no matter what his recent numbers say. It is likely, therefore, that he will return to Dr. Robert Mohr, the UCLA specialist, in the coming days to discuss a new tack.
O’Neal waded without expression through waiting reporters Monday, though by all accounts the birthday bash he hosted the night before was quite a hit.
vs. Charlotte, 7:30 PST, Fox Sports Net
Records--Lakers 43-18, Hornets 30-32.
Record vs. Hornets--1-0.
Update--The Hornets stand with four others--Indiana, Washington, Toronto and Miami--who are playing for the final two playoff places in the Eastern Conference. They are 18-14 on the road, including Sunday’s 88-82 win in Phoenix, where Jamal Mashburn scored 26 points and Baron Davis scored 18.