Shaquille O'Neal storms through Orlando for 33 points in a 95-90 win against his old team.
After he had sufficiently thumped the team from his adopted hometown, Shaquille O'Neal stood in a hallway and wrapped beefy arms around his mother, Lucille. He gave her a gentle kiss on the left cheek. She smiled up at him.
"All right," he told her. "I'll see you soon."
Then he was off, all the Lakers were, away from a 95-90 victory against the Magic on Sunday afternoon at TD Waterhouse Centre, carrying perhaps another ounce of confidence toward a playoff season only 16 games away.
On an afternoon when Kobe Bryant was off his game, O'Neal scattered the Magic frontline with 33 points and 17 rebounds to help the Lakers move into first place in the Pacific Division.
The crowd booed his dominance, and afterward crowded him for autograph requests, which he granted as he waded to the team bus and left his mom behind.
"Ah," O'Neal said, "I've been booed since elementary school."
The Lakers have won four in a row, three on the road and all since Derek Fisher came off the injured list and convinced them to try to play defense.
The Magic got 29 points and 10 rebounds from Tracy McGrady, returning from a two-game suspension after a fight with Sacramento's Bobby Jackson on Tuesday. Mike Miller had 18 points _ but none in the fourth quarter.
Orlando closed within 75-74 with eight minutes to play on Darrell Armstrong's two free throws.
But the Magic came up empty on its next four possessions. In one series, Armstrong missed two three-pointers _ typical of his 2-for-14 game, which included misses on all six of his three-point attempts.
"You have off nights," said Armstrong, who finished with eight points and eight assists. "I don't think I played a bad game; I just thought I didn't shoot the ball well."
"I thought Darrell rushed a little," Orlando coach Doc Rivers said. "He can get wound up at times, and I thought today was one of those times."
Orlando's cold offense allowed the Lakers to slowly run off, beginning with Robert Horry's follow slam for a three-point lead with 7:01 to play.
O'Neal's three-point play off a putback dunk with 2:05 remaining capped the run and gave the Lakers an 89-80 lead.
Bryant scored 16 points in 37 minutes. He missed 12 of 17 shots, most of them jumpers, a few of them difficult fade-aways. He said his problematic ankles felt "tight," throwing off his aim.
But O'Neal gave the Lakers his 43rd double double of the season.
All in all, it wasn't a bad weekend for O'Neal, who slept in his off-season bed for two nights, inspected the 8,000-foot addition to his Isleworth manor, hugged a lot of old friends, then reminded everyone what they were missing, in case Andrew DeClercq and Michael Doleac weren't enough.
"It's always fun to come back here and play, to see the articles you guys (reporters) write," said O'Neal, who led the Magic to the NBA Finals in 1995. "I think now this is just another game. If the guys were still here that I played with, then it would be more of a rivalry-type thing. This is a whole new team."