- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

Wake up, Zen master.

It is time to fire up the incense, dust off the Indian artifacts and shake the arthritis out of Shaquille O'Neal's right big toe.

The NBA's interminable exercise to sentence 13 of its 29 teams to the draft lottery is coming to a close.

The playoffs begin next week, along with the mind games, none better than those practiced by the Zen master.

He should be well rested, the same as his team. Neither expressed an interest in the regular season. The boredom apparently was the product of two consecutive NBA championships and the 15-1 march to the title last season.

It is not intended to fool anyone, except the foolish.

The Zen master is rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, and Jack Nicholson is putting on his game smirk.

The Lakers remain the team to beat, assuming O'Neal's big toe is functional and Chris Webber disappears to the perimeter.

The Kings have the best record in the NBA and one of the weaker hearts, if Webber's heart is challenged, as expected.

The regular season provides only a series of snapshots, some more amusing than revealing, starting with the punch O'Neal tried to throw in the vicinity of Brad Miller in early January.

George Karl lost his team in Milwaukee, if not his mind, judging by his obsession with Doc Rivers.

Karl attempted to make a social commentary around his assistant and Rivers, in white-and-black terms, and wound up with a dunce's cap to cover his bad hair.

Charles Barkley activated his social conscience as well, perhaps to be heard above the 24/7 news din.

Barkley should know that it is hard to feel the pain of a zillionaire, although America's chattering class routinely makes the attempt, whether it is Tiger's pain or Denzel's pain.

Tim Duncan probably is the NBA's MVP, and no disrespect intended to Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki. Rick Carlisle is the Coach of the Year, Joe Dumars the Executive of the Year, and Ben Wallace the Most Improved Player of the Year.

Vince Carter succumbed to another boo-boo, just in time for the Raptors to make a playoff push and raise the question of his true worth.

Jeff Van Ankle Weight abandoned the Knicks after 19 games, and the Knicks abandoned Don Chaney, and conspiracy theorists already smell a fix in the lottery.

Steve Francis came down with a migraine headache in Houston, distinct from the headache formerly known as Mark Cuban in Dallas.

Kenyon Martin received almost as many unsatisfactory marks in deportment as Russell Crowe, both of whom have a beautiful temper.

David Robinson eventually joined the season in progress, just as the Timberwolves eventually called it a season.

John Stockton celebrated his 40th birthday with 20 points, six assists and one tight-lipped response, as he prefers it. His next in-depth interview will be the first of his 18-season career.

The ownership in Charlotte, N.C., made plans to move the Hornets to New Orleans, which already has lost one NBA team. The Jazzmen did not come by their name because of Brigham Young.

The Hornets might advance to the NBA Finals anyway, considering the lift Jamal Mashburn has provided and what qualifies as the competition in the Eastern Conference.

Dan Issel evolved from an angry white male to a blubbering white male to an unemployed white male after calling a heckler in the stands a Mexican bleep.

This seemed to make the ultra-sensitive in the media feel better, none of whom ever has resorted to politically incorrect insults in a fit of anger. It did not seem to help the Nuggets, Tim Hardaway, in particular.

Soon after making the move from Dallas to Denver, Hardaway took it out on a television monitor at courtside. The monitor won, predictably enough. The Nuggets couldn't beat anyone or anything.

The excessive behavior complements the excessive season. The season wears on nearly everyone, the Zen master and Lakers excluded.

They slept through most of it.

Now they are about to see if they can snap to attention again and reprise their dominant selves from the last postseason.

The plan looks solid enough, depending on the condition of the big toe, of course.

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