Despite being in town, Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal didn't show up for Sunday's game against his estranged former Magic teammates as he had indicated he would.
On the other hand, the rest of the Lakers promised to show up but didn't.
The result was a merciless 110-84 pounding by the Magic in front of a capacity crowd of 17,248 ecstatic and seemingly vindicated fans at Orlando Arena.
It was an anticlimactic outcome for a game that was supposed to have more nastiness and harsh words than the ugliest divorce case.
It was all O'Neal's fault.
The likable but often enigmatic superstar, who had indicated earlier in the week that he likely would make an exception and attend this game, instead made only a cameo appearance at the O-rena _ and that was outside.
About an hour before the scheduled 12:30 tipoff, the injured O'Neal pulled up to the player entrance of the arena and dropped off a few friends, then quickly departed amid a crush of reporters.
Magic forward Dennis Scott, who remains close friends with O'Neal, said the media chased the big fella away.
"He wanted to come, but he knew he couldn't," Scott said. "He knew he wouldn't be able to just sit and watch the game."
Said Lakers coach Del Harris in O'Neal's defense: "I think he did the right thing. He would have been a sitting-duck target, unable to defend himself."
O'Neal's absence apparently was meaningless to everyone on the Magic except Nick Anderson, who got into a war of words with O'Neal after the All-Star center criticized him upon leaving the Magic for the Lakers during the off-season. Anderson admitted he came up with his 21-point effort _ his best outing since he had 20 against Seattle on March 2 _ because of his feud with O'Neal.
"That had a lot to do with it," said Anderson, who all but called O'Neal a coward for not showing up.
"If he was in town, why aren't you here? Other guys are injured and they still come to the game. Why couldn't you come?"
To be honest, it may not have mattered because the Magic (39-29) was on a mission.
This playoff-minded team, which got 21 points from Penny Hardaway and 16 apiece from Horace Grant and Scott, was not merely looking to notch a win over another quality opponent. It was hell-bent on avenging its 92-81 loss to the Lakers in L.A. in December and giving a better account of itself than it had in recent NBC appearances against Phoenix and Seattle.
The result was a team that, from the opening tipoff, played with the kind of energy and emotion you'd expect in a playoff game. That the Lakers (45-23) looked every bit like a team weary from its third game in four days only sealed its fate.
The Magic, whose biggest lead was 32 points, led by 17 points after one quarter and 28 after two. Its 66 first-half points were a team record.
The only suspense was whether the team would get 110 points, thereby earning fans free hamburgers through a team promotion. That happened with 11 seconds left when little-used David Vaughn slammed home a pass from rookie Brian Evans.
The Lakers, who are battling Seattle (47-20) for the Pacific Division title but are 9-10 since O'Neal was injured, shot 38 percent from the floor, 20 percent from three-point range and allowed Orlando to score 50 points in the paint, mostly off steals, turnovers and offensive rebounds that led to easy baskets.
"I think our guys had all the best intentions in the world, but we were so aggressive offensively early (that we took) quick shots that we didn't make," said Harris, who saw only three of his players _ Elden Campbell (16 points), Nick Van Exel (13) and former Florida State guard George McCloud (10) _ score in double figures.
"By the time we settled down in the second half to playing a bit more of our style of ball, we had dug ourselves too deep into a hole."