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|Bling-bling, Shaq likes another ring!|
|04/28/02 at 12:36:43|
Shaq likes sound of more rings
By Vincent Bonsignore
EL SEGUNDO -- Before he became the dominant player in the NBA and a two-time champion with the Lakers, Shaquille O'Neal wondered when -- and if -- he'd join the exclusive club of great players with championship rings.
O'Neal was too proud to admit it back then. However, privately, he dreaded the thought of ending up like Charles Barkley -- a great player without a title. The 7-foot center wanted to be like the Magics and Jordans and Birds, all of whom solidified their greatness by winning NBA titles.
He endured some restless nights as he pondered his future.
"I was sitting back reflecting the other day when I didn't have any (titles) and saying to myself, 'Just try and get one,' " O'Neal said.
Now, as O'Neal and the Lakers go for the sweep against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference quarterfinals and set their sights on winning a third consecutive NBA championship, O'Neal is satisfied with his place in league history but not content with his current standing.
The obsession to win one title has been replaced with a desire for a collection of championships. He says he feels no angst over his mission but rather approaches it as a challenge, which is why he's smiling more this postseason than in any other. That includes the last two, which ended with the Lakers sipping champagne and hoisting championship trophies.
The Lakers can complete a sweep of the Trail Blazers in Game 3 on Sunday at the Rose Garden in Portland.
"Now that I have two, I'm just focused on getting number three, so there's really no pressure on us," O'Neal said. "We're just trying to do something for the city and the organization. For Phil (Jackson) and myself."
O'Neal, hampered all year by foot problems and conditioning issues, seems revitalized by the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel tone of the playoffs. A long, painful regular season has given way to a more urgent postseason and no one has been energized by the challenge of stamping the Lakers place in history with a three-peat more than O'Neal.
The space between playoff games has given him ample time to rest his ailing feet, enabling O'Neal to be as spry as he's been all year. His dominant performance in the Lakers' 103-96 Game 2 victory Thursday at Staples Center was proof that he can still torment opponents physically. He pounded the Blazers with 31 points and 14 rebounds to help send them back to Portland in a 0-2 hole.
Jackson has detected a more revitalized O'Neal than in the regular season; teammate Kobe Bryant said O'Neal looked as healthy as ever in Game 2. That's good news for the Lakers, who need their big man to be as effective as possible to get through the torturous Western Conference, but bad news for the Blazers -- and maybe everyone else.
"I don't know, we really can't stop Shaq," said Portland forward Bonzi Wells. "It's just tough. He's just too big. I mean, the whole league can't stop this guy. He's just so dominant right now. Then you have guys like Kobe, who play off him very well, and Rick Fox and Derek Fisher. It's just tough to beat them. They're a good team."
O'Neal was upbeat and playful before and during the first two games, perhaps a sign that his feet are feeling better and that the end of the season -- and maybe another championship -- are in sight.
He even took a few moments to play up to TV cameras after sinking a pair of free throws in Game 2, first staring at the rim when the ball didn't fall through cleanly, than dabbing the side of his face after another make as if he were putting on after-shave lotion before a big date.
"It's all about marketing," O'Neal joked Friday after the Lakers practiced. "I'm just out there having fun, just trying not to worry about all the other stuff."
The only ones worrying these days are the Blazers, who were swept by the Lakers in the first round last year and fell in seven games two seasons ago. It's obvious they'll have to come up with another plan to guard O'Neal on Sunday, but it might not matter what they do if O'Neal is as active and energetic as he's been so far.
"Every time we had a little chance to get back in the game, they would post the ball to Shaq and he would spin, dunk and do whatever he wanted to do," Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. "For pretty much the whole game -- 3 to 3 1/2 quarters of the game -- he was pretty dominant."
Too dominant for the Blazers, it seems.
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