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Shaq Strikes Baq

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Shaq took the first, and perhaps most important, round of the Shaq-Kobe battle which has consumed the NBA for the past six months. The Heat managed a 104-102 overtime victory over the Lakers. It was a game where it seemed like Kobe was about to come out on top. Kobe got Shaq to foul him three times, including twice in the fourth quarter, for Shaq to foul out. At that point, with 2:15 left in the game, Kobe had outscored Shaq 42-24, and the Lakers seemed poised to win. But then Kobe stopped playing smart basketball. He fell asleep on transition defense, took bad shots, and never scored again. Instead Dwayne Wade stole the show and carried the Heat to victory.

Shaq played reasonably well. He looks much slimmer and quicker than he did a year ago, but it's his presence which creates so many opportunities for the other Heat players, who have the East's best record.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are still trying to find an offensive flow. Their offense is too reliant on three pointers, and they need a better ball-handler than Chucky Atkins. Instead Atkins loves to live and die by the three, and averages just 3.6 assists a game. Lamar Odom had a good game today, and if the Lakers want to get better, they need to see more aggressive play from him. There is no reason why Odom can't be a superstar in this league, and why he can't be Pippen to Kobe's Jordan. The Lakers need to utilize the old point-forward Odom more, and then have him go to the hole. While Kobe can handle the ball, the Lakers are better when he feeds off someone else and only handles the ball when he's hot or when it's late.

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Rudy Tomjanovich has his work cut out for him.

In the meantime, Shaq can bask in his glory, knowing that even though he was slightly outplayed by Kobe, his team's ball won the day. Perhaps the soap opera can die down now, and we can stop hearing about corvettes, brick walls, and people hitting on each other's wives. But probably not.