The San Antonio series is a day away and 1,300 miles from starting, and already Phil Jackson is smiling.
It really has nothing to do with Xs and O’s, other than those used by the media to vote for the NBA most valuable player award, which will go to Tim Duncan for a second consecutive season, according to Saturday’s San Antonio Express-News.
Jackson figured the award would go to Kevin Garnett or Tracy McGrady. The delight in his eyes told the rest of the story when he heard who is expected to get it.
“It’s a real impetus to our team for Duncan to get the MVP award,” Jackson said. “I like it a lot. Shaq steps up to attention because he knows he’s the most valuable big guy in this league.”
O’Neal was not available for interviews Saturday.
O’Neal averaged 27.5 points and 11.1 rebounds after missing the first 12 games.
The official announcement is to be made today on ABC.
The other Laker candidate said the MVP award was not a goal because of his “role” with the Lakers.
“It was amazing to me that I was even considered,” said Kobe Bryant, who averaged 30 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists. “I never thought that would be the case because I play in a situation that’s different from all the other MVP candidates. I’m pretty much filling my role here. Our team is built around Shaquille O’Neal and that makes my situation different.
“It’s not that I’m a role player. I play a huge role here but the team’s structured around the big fella and I’m totally OK with that.”
O’Neal has claimed in the past to have an on-court vendetta against David Robinson because the Spur center refused an autograph request when O’Neal was a high schooler in San Antonio. The story was never proven to be as tangible as O’Neal’s desire to dismantle Robinson, for whatever reasons.
As the clock wound down in the final game against Minnesota, O’Neal sat on the bench and began politicking teammates.
“We had the game pretty much in order and he said, ‘Bring the ball to me. I’m going at Robinson next game,’ ” Brian Shaw said. “That’s what we like to hear. We see that spark in his eye, we’re going to bring the ball to him right away.”
O’Neal’s dislike of Robinson is most likely a situation of civic circumstance, Shaw said.
“He still has some people in San Antonio and some history there and that just happens to be the team David Robinson plays center for,” Shaw said. “He just always has a little extra when we go back there.”
As far as statistics go, Rick Fox might not be missed as much against San Antonio. In three games against the Spurs, he averaged only 6.7 points, a decrease from his 9.0 scoring average.
He missed the season opener against the Spurs because he was suspended for his preseason fight with Sacramento’s Doug Christie. He scored 16 points in the second game against the Spurs but totaled only four points in the next two games against San Antonio.