- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

SHAQ TRIES TO TURN BACK THE CLOCK

Anyone who thought being named All-Star Game co-MVP would be the last notable moment of Shaquille O’Neal’s career should think again. Judging by two barometers, the Big Fella is feeling rather good these days.

In 12 games since the All-Star break, Shaq has averaged 21.0 points and 7.8 rebounds. On Feb. 27 against Toronto, he erupted for 45 points and 11 rebounds in a victory. Two days later against the Lakers, O’Neal led the Suns to a win with 33 points and seven rebounds. Statistically speaking, it’s O’Neal’s best production since the 2005-06 season, when he averaged 20.0 points and 9.2 rebounds for the NBA champion Heat.

And then there’s the return of O’Neal’s unmatched wit, which has been as captivating as ever.



After the win in Toronto, foward/center Chris Bosh said O’Neal benefited from the referees not calling three-second violations. Shaq responded with: “I heard what Chris Bosh said, and that’s strong words coming from the RuPaul of big men. I’m going to do the same thing [the next time we play] I did before - make him quit. Make ‘em quit and complain. It’s what I do.”

Later that week, Shaq (Orlando’s center of the past) faced Dwight Howard (Orlando’s center of the present). Howard’s 21 points and eight rebounds led Orlando to a win over Shaq (19 points, 11 rebounds) and the Suns.

When asked whether the new Superman impressed him, the NBA’s original Man of Steel replied, “I can’t be impressed by something I invented in ‘92. I mean, you look at what he is doing, I’ve been there and done that. Until he wins three, four championships, then we can talk about him.”

Shaq followed that by responding to criticism from Magic coach Stan Van Gundy that O’Neal flopped while defending Howard: “I realized that play reminded me of [Van Gundy’s] whole coaching career.”

Ah, gotta love the Big Fella. When his starpower appeared to be fading fast, the last month has been reminiscent of Shaq’s heyday.

It’s hard to say what triggered it all. Perhaps the reaction he got from his All-Star performance clued Shaq that he hadn’t lost as much as he thought. And not having to share the paint with Amare Stoudemire (out for the season with injury) has let O’Neal go back to feasting in the post.

Despite his resurgence, however, the wins haven’t been there. Phoenix has lost four straight following the win over the Lakers. O’Neal has whispered he wants out next season. Before the trade deadline, he praised the Lakers. He also said he wouldn’t mind playing in New York. Maybe the last month has been an audition.

Regardless of how it plays out, Shaq is ensuring he won’t be forgotten.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

Six straight wins by the Charlotte Bobcats? In real life? Yup, and it’s a franchise record. Sure, five of the six have come against the likes of lower-tiered Sacramento, Golden State, Chicago, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers. But also in the mix is a 98-91 victory over Atlanta on Friday. Not bad for a 28-35 squad. By beating the Clippers on Feb. 28 to conclude a five-game Western Conference swing on a victorious note, the Bobcats improved to 13-11 outside their conference. And with that sixth-straight win, the Bobcats had all five starters in double digits for the third straight game. Finally the improvement expected when Michael Jordan hired Larry Brown to coach the team has arrived.

POWER RANKINGS

1. LAKERS (50-13)

Kobe and Co. become the first 50-win team in the NBA this season.

2. CAVALIERS (49-13)

LeBron and all the King’s Men look to pad lead in the East as Celtics’ injuries mount.

3. CELTICS (49-15)

With Rondo, Davis, House and Scalabrine all injured, KG can’t return soon enough.

4. MAGIC (46-17)

They’ve pulled within 2 1/2 games of Boston for No. 2 spot in East. Can they pull off a leapfrog?

5. SPURS (42-20)

Health - or the lack thereof - could be the downfall of the Spurs down the home stretch.

6. JAZZ (40-23)

The hottest team in the league with a 14-1 record during February.

7. ROCKETS (42-23)

Houston has won 12 straight at home and boasts a 10-2 record without Tracy McInjured.

8. HORNETS (39-23)

Hornets won seven straight before falling to Atlanta on Monday.

9. TRAIL BLAZERS (40-23)

Fearless Blazers knock off Lakers and pull even with Utah for Northwest Division lead.

10. NUGGETS (40-25)

A 1-5 showing in the last week costs Denver top spot in the Northwest.

LOTTERY WATCH

TEAGUE A FAST-RISING TWEENER

As the college basketball season enters tournament time, Wake Forest sophomore guard Jeff Teague continues to make a case that he belongs among the top picks in this summer’s NBA Draft.

Averaging 19.4 points, 3.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds, Teague has put up the numbers, but the question involving Teague is what position he will play in the NBA. At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, he’s best suited at point guard. His gunner mentality and 3.3 turnovers a game have scouts concerned about his ability to play at that spot, however. But the athleticism, tenacity and explosive scoring threat Teague presents has executives confident he can be a productive combo-guard.

THE BOTTOM FIVE

Kings 14-49 3-7 25.0

Wizards 15-49 3-7 19.9

Clippers 15-48 2-8 15.6

Grizzlies 16-46 1-9 11.9

Thunder 17-46 4-6 8.8

* chances of landing No. 1 pick

QUOTABLE

”That’s terrible. I haven’t averaged stuff like that since freshman year of high school. I’m 7 feet. I should be able to walk onto the court and average 10 points. I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”

- Portland’s oft-injured rookie center Greg Oden, who has averaged 9.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in 46 games

TROPHY TRACKER

MVP

1. Kobe Bryant - Appears poised to lead the Lakers to homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

2. LeBron James - LBJ and Co. making strong bid to dethrone Boston in the East.

3. Dwyane Wade - Averaging 38.2 points, 11.4 assists and 6.6 rebounds in his last five games.

Coach of the Year

1. Jerry Sloan - Hasn’t had Carlos Boozer for much of the season, yet Utah is surging at the right time.

2. Rick Adelman - Houston was supposed to contend with McGrady. They’re doing it without him.

3. Mike Brown - Cleveland does have LeBron, but a league-best defense is also key to their success.

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