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Pacers' game plan: stop, well okay, contain Shaq

Indiana will try to be more aggressive when defending Shaquille O'Neal, who had 43 points and 19 rebounds in Game 1.

He is a mountain of a man, just over 7 feet, easily 335 pounds and agile as a gazelle.

Truth be told, Shaquille O'Neal is a bully in sneakers who pushes his way around the NBA, daring anyone to try to stop him. And if things don't change soon in the NBA Finals, the Indiana Pacers fear O'Neal will be the basketball death of them.

He almost single-handedly took Game 1 from the Pacers, trampling them for 43 points and 19 rebounds in a 104-87 win Wednesday night at Staples Center. Indiana tried different ways to defend him, but nothing worked. The Pacers spent part of Thursday's practice devising adjustments they hope _ make that pray _ will at least slow the "Diesel" tonight in Game 2.

"After the way Shaquille laid us up last night, obviously we're going to try to be more aggressive," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "We got there last night on the double teams, but it wasn't aggressive. If you come down there soft on him, he'll make you pay for it every time."

Stopping O'Neal from shooting is probably impossible. Indiana's objective is to force O'Neal to take more difficult shots. That means making him get the ball farther away from the basket than he did in Game 1 and

double-teaming him when he gets the ball instead of waiting until he makes a move to shoot.

Portland was excellent at doing those things, which is why O'Neal had just 17 and 18 points in his last two games of the Western Conference final series against the Blazers.

Wednesday, Indiana was too slow with its double-team, allowing the Lakers center to roam the lane and muscle his way for easy baskets. He made 7 of 8 field goals in the first quarter and finished 21-fof-31. The Pacers tried guarding him with different players _ Rik Smits, Dale Davis and Sam Perkins _ but none could handle O'Neal by themselves.

"We don't have one guy who can stop him," Pacers guard Mark Jackson said. "I don't think there's one guy on the face of the earth that can stop him, so we have to (double-team) him. We'll pick and choose our spots, but I'm sure they'll be ready for us."

The key to double-teaming O'Neal is making all passes to him difficult ones. The Pacers want to clog the middle so the Lakers cannot comfortably get the ball in to their big fella.

"You cannot allow Shaq to catch the ball in the (lane). I think that's the main thing we have to concentrate on," Jackson said. "Other than that, we can put pressure on the guy handling the ball and making entry passes. But if we play with passion and aggression, we'll be fine. We have to go at (O'Neal) with a reckless abandon, get the ball out of his hands and make somebody else beat us."

Bird said the evidence that his team was not passionate and aggressive enough against O'Neal was that O'Neal took 31 shots from the floor but only had six free-throw attempts, meaning the Pacers did not foul him enough, especially given O'Neal's well-publicized free-throw shooting woes. Wednesday, he was 1-of-6 from the free throw line.

"If a guy's going to take 30 shots, he should go to the (free-throw) line 12, 14 times," Bird said. "There will be situations where we might have to foul him if he gets the ball too close to the basket. But we'll have to see."

The Pacers must be careful how they defend O'Neal. Double-teaming is a no-brainer, but Indiana cannot leave Glen Rice and/or Kobe Bryant open because O'Neal is good at passing to whomever is free. And with Rice and Bryant, that could lead to uncontested three-pointers.

"They want to double and triple me, so I'm just going to be looking to get my guys involved," O'Neal said. "I just have to do other things like rebound and play defense and block shots."

Whatever adjustments the Pacers make tonight, probably none will surprise the Lakers. They expect to see different defensive schemes directed at O'Neal and are prepared to make their own adjustments. Plus, there are few ways of defending O'Neal that the Lakers have not already encountered.

Then, of course, there's this: "If I get (the ball) real deep (into the lane) and beat the double-team," O'Neal said, "nothing will matter."