Q&A: Shaquille O’Neal on NBA playoffs, Kobe and the West

Shaquille O’Neal’s presence in the NBA playoffs remains large.

The center who led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles (2000-02), feuded with Kobe Bryant, then paired to win a ring with Miami’s Dwyane Wade in 2006 before retiring last year is now an analyst on TNT’s Emmy-winning “Inside the NBA.”

With TNT providing blanket playoff coverage, including the Clippers-Memphis game Monday, O’Neal, who works along with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, strove to provide a candid and entertaining perspective on league developments.

This time of year, don’t you wish you were still playing?

“Not at all. I prepared myself for this day. I played at such a high level for so long that a regular level is not acceptable to me. It’s not good enough.”

Are you enjoying this part of the game?

“It’s been fun. We get to be ourselves. We’re player analysts, not professionals like Bob Costas. I speak from experience and try to make people laugh. People on the set respect each other and when you look at our panel, there’s a lot of experience in big games there. When I watch TV, I want to hear from guys who know what they’re talking about, who’ve lived it. Just like when people read about it, they want to read it in the newspaper first, not just a blog.”

Let’s put you on the spot right away. Who’ll be in the Finals and why?

“Like a lot of people, Miami and the [San Antonio] Spurs. I think it’ll be either the Spurs or the Lakers. L.A. is the only team that matches up with the Spurs. With Miami, Wade is the leader of the team, and LeBron [James] is the most celebrated player. They’ll go as far as D-Wade can take them. He likes the role of, ‘Oh, you guys forgot about me? Watch this.’ He has the know-how to win a title. He failed last year. He doesn’t like to lose twice.”

You’re not picking Oklahoma City in the West?

“No, because you have to know what to do in certain situations. Like if you miss three straight jumpers, you’re not supposed to just keep shooting. OKC has good players, but they only know one way to play now. The Spurs know how to do it, they have the greatest leader [Coach Gregg Popovich] in the world. They’re on a mission. And I think Tim Duncan, the way he’s playing now, has two years left.”

One of the things we’ve seen in these playoffs is reckless behavior — Amare Stoudemire cutting his hand by hitting a fire extinguisher, Rajon Rondo bumping a ref — winning a title requires a championship demeanor, doesn’t it?

“Temper is not a big thing if you control where you use it. I ripped urinals out of the walls, smashed TVs. You can’t let emotions supersede what you want to do.

I’m sure you could’ve let your emotions take hold during the Hack-a-Shaq stuff?

“It was never frustrating to me because my thing was that if you needed strategy to beat me, I was already in your head.”

A big man who’s wrestled with managing his temperament is your successor with the Lakers, Andrew Bynum. Can he carry this team to a title?

“He doesn’t have to carry them, but those big record-setting games he’s had lately show they will win more championships with him. He’s turned himself into a legitimate, good big man, and with La-La Land being all about the titles, I’m sure he’ll get them some titles, break more records and get his name up in those rafters because Kobe can break anyone down, distribute to him — and Kobe trusts him. I just hope my name can get up in those rafters at some point too.”

Give us some insider information: What’s Kobe thinking right now?

“He has the accolades. He’s passed me in scoring. He knows it’ll take playing at a high level, and he can do it. He wants that sixth title so he’ll go down as the best Laker ever, over Magic [Johnson].”

He thinks like that?

“If you guys write it down, I’m sure he won’t mind. … The thing he understands, he can do his thing, but going all the way is all about the others. He had [Derek] Fisher to take the .04 shot, the [Robert] Horry shot against Sacramento, being down 15 against Portland with B [Brian] Shaw and everyone doing it to come back to win. He has to be himself, play at his level, and help the others do their things. He wants it.”