- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

Shaquille O’Neal is hardly inadequate at a self-assessed “65.212 percent” in the Eastern Conference, where all too many centers barely amount to half his body mass.

The NBA season is under way, and Kobe Bryant is shooting 40 percent after two games.

The absence of O’Neal is certain to have a corrosive effect on Bryant’s shooting percentage. O’Neal’s massive presence, strained hamstring and all, is bound to have the opposite effect in Miami.

“I haven’t had that many open shots since I played pee-wee ball with my brother when I was 5,” Heat guard Damon Jones said after the team’s opener in the Landfill State.

This is the estimated 340-pound intangible of O’Neal, as burdensome as ever to those who must plant a forearm on his back before begging for help.

Brendan Haywood will not be around to deliver the next forearm to O’Neal in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood tomorrow night. Haywood is carrying around a newly inked, five-year contract extension worth about $16million.

To which can be said: Isn’t it wonderful to be a 7-footer in America?

That is not to take anything away from Haywood, especially with what qualifies as his two hands. He needs all the help he can manage there, starting with a perfectly placed, velocity-measured pass.

Haywood is no fighter either, judging by his ultra-serious backpedaling in preseason.

The NBA slapped him with a three-game suspension, which was crazy. The NBA should have awarded him a bodyguard. Or sent him to train under Angelo Dundee.

It was hard to tell if Haywood was employing the rope-a-dope strategy or the uh-oh maneuver during his abbreviated stint as a two-sport athlete.

Most NFL cornerbacks do not backpedal as well as Haywood, and that definitely includes Packers cornerback Al Harris, whose dreadlocks pose a significant drag on his sprint time.

Haywood will complete his suspension with the Heat game, thank goodness, after most of the team was relegated to one game.

Say this for the Wizards: When they go into their full-suspension mode, they really get out after it.

Eddie Jordan delivered an improbable victory with approximately eight players in the Elvis enclave, depending on how you quantify Peter John Ramos, who is very tall on the rare occasion that he is not required to sit.

Ramos is favored to become the team’s first player to employ that old but beloved Washington line this season: “I am not a potted plant.”

Anyway, two elements stood out Wednesday in the stirring opener of the Wizards: Jason Williams has hair, and Hubie Brown needs to hire several more assistants, if only to be spared from the physical rigors of leaving his seat during games.

Nothing against Brown, who spouts more basketball knowledge in a sentence or two than many players display in a season’s worth of games, but he looks to be a threat to have a fainting spell at any moment. Teams that squander 19-point leads do not help the old ticker either. That is a scientific fact.

Elsewhere, the player formerly known as Vince Carter has suffered another ego-deflating setback, this time in a court of law, which ruled in favor of his former agent, the imprisoned William “Tank” Black.

That is a tough one to accept, losing to a ward of the state. Yet it goes with Carter’s descent.

Carter, of course, used to be somebody in the NBA. Now he is an irrelevance who has fallen off the radar screen, to the point that he can miss as many games as he likes because of hangnails and paper cuts and no one will notice.

Jason Kidd fired Byron Scott last season. Now he wants to fire New Jersey/Brooklyn.

To think Kidd could be starting his second season in San Antonio.

Grant Hill, resisting the urge to play with his fingers crossed, scored 20 points in his first game since Jan.16, 2003.

Hill is up to four surgeries on a left ankle that has tormented him since he landed in Orlando in 2000.

His staying whole is the feel-good hope of the NBA this season.

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