The marquee matchup between the top teams in the Atlantic Division, the Orlando Magic and the New York Knicks, never materialized Wednesday night.
Not unless the teams met in the training room beforehand.
Power forward Horace Grant, small forwards Dennis Scott and Donald Royal and guard Brian Shaw _ four of the Magic's top eight players _ were out injured in a 105-103 preseason win at the Orlando Arena.
And New York was missing three key players of its own: All-Star center Patrick Ewing, who has yet to play this preseason because of his ailing knees; power forward Charles Oakley; and guard Hubert Davis.
"I'm happy with the win, but it was a very tough game to evaluate from the standpoint of both teams having a lot of players out," Magic coach Brian Hill said.
With Ewing out, the Knicks asked Herb Williams and Anthony Mason to stop Shaquille O'Neal.
Well, they could ask.
O'Neal was a force, finishing with a game-high 37 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
"I'm just trying to stay consistent," he said.
Late in the first half, O'Neal raced down court and caught a long pass from Anfernee Hardaway, stopped suddenly underneath the basket and then leaned back for a layup. The center finished the half with a buzzer-beating bank shot from three-point range for a 60-47 lead.
"I can hit that shot," O'Neal said, beaming.
O'Neal, who has never made a three-pointer in regulation, strutted off the court with his arms held high and the announced crowd of 15,951 cheering madly.
The Magic, one of the league's best three-point shooting teams last season, had been struggling in the preseason, hitting just 17 of 62. But in the first half against the Knicks, the Magic was 7-of-11 from long range, including three from guard Nick Anderson.
Even with Orlando's perimeter game, the Knicks (5-2) could have _ and probably should have _ been much closer at intermission. They made just 16 of 26 free throws.
"We got stung by a very talented team, a very powerful team and they sort of caught us a little bit flat-footed early," New York coach Pat Riley said.
The Magic (5-2) got a scare in the opening minute of the second half when Hardaway, soaring for an offensive rebound, was bumped by John Starks and landed on his back. After a moment, he was up and appeared okay.
O'Neal keyed a 13-3 run with nine points as Orlando built a 23-point lead late in the third quarter, 88-65. The Knicks rallied in the fourth quarter, albeit against a unit featuring rookie Brooks Thompson, Greg Grant, Jeff Turner and Anthony Bowie, to close within 101-99 with 30 seconds left. But Anderson and Bowie iced the game with free throws.
"In this league, it's hard to keep a lead," O'Neal said. "But we hung in there and got the win."
Notes: Horace Grant missed his third game of the preseason, and second straight, with tendinitis in his left foot. He said X-rays and a MRI were negative. "It's probably something I'll have to play with all year," he said, adding he expects to practice Friday and play in the team's final preseason game on Saturday against Miami in New Orleans' Superdome. Oakley, suffering with a dislocated toe, said he will go to Nike's headquarters in Portland today to be fitted with a specially padded shoe. If that relieves the pain, he won't need surgery. "I'm just going with the flow and see what happens," he said. Knicks rookie point guard Charlie Ward, the former Florida State star, did not play. Several times in the fourth quarter, the crowd chanted "Charlie, Charlie."