- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

Try to keep the decibel level to a minimum in Tony Cheng's neighborhood tonight.
The Zen master is expected to be nearly asleep on the bench, either counting sheep or the days until the season begins in earnest for the Lakers in late April.
The shut-eye is considered an art in his case, completed with a wink, wink.
The Lakers managed to score only 70 points against the Cavaliers earlier in the week.
A yawn is permissible.
That goes double for the Zen master, the practitioner of the "let-them-play-through-their-mistakes" principle.
Even John Lucas, the coach of the Cavaliers, was unmoved by the power shortage.
"We beat half the Lakers," he said, calculating the absence of Shaquille O'Neal as only half.
At half his usual self, O'Neal was greater than the three victims with the Nets in the NBA Finals last June, and nothing against Todd MacCulloch, Jason Collins and Aaron Williams.
O'Neal is on the mend at the moment after waiting to address the big toe late in the offseason, the question of priorities muted.
The latitude comes with three championships in a row.
A fourth one is assumed, begging the pardon of the Kings, the one legitimate challenge before the Lakers.
The rest of the season is mostly bookkeeping, depending on how you view the goings-on in the Eastern Conference. The chase in the NBA's junior conference is certain to be intriguing, just not threatening to the Lakers, if it comes to that again next June.
The Zen master is apt to press a few psychological buttons along the way, if only to keep the parties in purple and gold vaguely interested in the 82-game march.
Kobe Bryant remains the easiest target around the incense and pet rocks, subject to Cochise's steadying influence, simply because of his proclivity to become lightheaded at high altitude.
There is more to like with Bryant this season, starting with the additional layer of muscle on his 6-foot-7 frame. He also has evolved into an unfailing triple-double threat. He was anointed the next Michael Jordan ahead of his time, and the time to be fair to both is past. Bryant is past his trial period, Jordan past his prime.
Jordan and the Wizards have a two-game history with the Lakers, perhaps their two most discouraging games last season.
In the first game after the All-Star break, the Wizards squandered a 20-point lead in the third quarter against the Lakers in Los Angeles, the nine-point loss the first indication of the descent ahead. The second meeting between the teams, a 20-point win by the Lakers on Fun Street in early April, was the end of the season for Jordan and the symbolic end for the Wizards. Jordan, by then reduced to riding a stationary bike to keep his knees warm when he was out of the game, scored two points in 12 minutes against his old coach and called it a season the next day.
The Lakers are the ones hurting now, both in body and spirit.
An early-season trip to the East Coast is hardly worth the effort.
The first game in the regular season liable to command the attention of the Lakers is not until Christmas Day, the first of four meetings between the Lakers and Kings this season.
The bad feelings between the two are genuine, if the spat between Rick Fox and Doug Christie in the preseason is an indication. Another indication is O'Neal calling the Kings the Queens, a moniker that goes with the crying in Sacramento. The Kings cry with the best, often after Vlade Divac has fallen to the floor, mortally wounded.
The Lakers have no need to cry or flop and no need to be overly picky with their victory haul this season. The Lakers own the playoff minds of the Spurs, and they went to Sacramento and beat the Kings in Game7 of the Western Conference finals last season.
The Mavericks, the best of the rest in the West, persist in pretending to think Shawn Bradley and Raef LaFrentz add up to a center, which is the customary pretense of the teams in the East.
That is no way to be in the vicinity of O'Neal, the MVP of the NBA, by proclamation or not.
The Lakers have earned the right to be impervious to the inevitable ups and downs of the season, if not disinterested in many of the details.
Quiet, please. The Zen master is at work.

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