- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

Shaquille O’Neal looked 104 years old against the Bulls, Rasheed Wallace is on pace to incur 164 technical fouls, and the Gee Wizards found another creative way to lose a close game to the Witnesses.

The three developments, among others, point to the creeping egalitarianism of the Eastern Conference.

The conference has a back-to-the-turn-of-the-century feel to it, to the immediate post-Jordan years, when the then hopelessly modest circuit sent the Knicks, Pacers, 76ers and Nets to play patsy to the representative of the Western Conference.

The Nets advanced to the NBA Finals in successive seasons, with 52 wins in 2002 and 49 wins in 2003, and a similarly suspect contingent could claim the East this season, judging from the initial peek.

The Shaq-Man has come to be pathologically indifferent to the regular season at this point in his Hall of Fame career. It is almost a point of pride with him. But he appeared alarmingly slow, out of shape and glued to the floor against the Bulls.

Tyrus Thomas, the springy rookie out of LSU, swatted away one of the Shaq-Man’s field goal attempts with gusto.

The Shaq-Man was so anchored to the floor on the shot attempt, you might have thought he was bequeathed the cement-shoe gene of Eric Montross.

The Shaq-Man appeared to have all the legs of a fighter who barely manages to beat a standing-eight count.

He did not even attempt to go after a lob pass from Dwyane Wade at one point in the game.

Father Time spares no one, of course, not even those who reveled in the power of the cream and the clear.

The aging process is apt to be accelerated in the case of the Shaq-Man because of the strain his massive body has put on his lower limbs.

Basketball players do not lose their skill with age. They lose their legs.

Wallace, the human volcano who has been almost dormant by his standards the last few seasons, is apparently going to have trouble adapting to the NBA’s newly imposed edict, which is: Be Extra Kind to the Referees.

Wallace should have noted the quick technical foul awarded to Andres Nocioni on opening night.

Nocioni did not get into the face of a referee after thinking a foul should have been called following a basket.

He merely flapped his arms like a bird. The referee saw this as an egregious act against humanity and issued a technical foul.

The zero-tolerance policy does not bode well for Wallace and the Pistons, whose previously vaunted interior defense now looks shockingly anemic with the absence of Ben Wallace.

Add the two — the volatile Wallace and the departed Wallace — and you have a team that is far removed from its 64-win waltz last season.

The initial reviews of the Gee Wizards come with the “same-as-it-ever-was” chorus, with David Byrne making the chopping motion to his forearm.

Antawn Jamison missed a shot at the end, just after Jarvis Hayes missed one, and just after the Gee Wizards set out orange highway cones to help the Witnesses proceed to the basket in a safe and orderly fashion.

This was extremely gracious on the part of the visitors, if not an attempt to meet the kindness of the Witnesses, who made a strong bid to lose the game at the free throw line.

Alas, someone was required to win the game, and it might as well have been the Witnesses, given their 50-33 rebounding edge and spirited home crowd.

Nike undoubtedly was pleased after filling so many of the commercial breaks with uplifting mini-dramas starring the king of the contorted face.

As contorted as it is, however, it lacks Jim Carrey’s rubbery capacity.

But the king is still young and no doubt endeavoring to perfect it.

And it is amusing, if his objective is to amuse.

Otherwise, the game is but one of 82, the goings-on in the conference potentially intriguing.

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