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The start of the second half of the NBA season brought a
shakeup--or, in one case, a Shaq down--on both coasts. In the
West the Pacific Division-leading Lakers suffered a huge setback
when All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal fell awkwardly in a Feb.
12 game against the Timberwolves and was lost for eight to 10
weeks with ligament damage to his left knee. In the East the
surging Heat, which already was in first place in the Atlantic
Division, made a major deal for once-potent Mavericks forward
Jamal Mashburn, a move that could advance Miami to the
conference finals.

At week's end the Lakers were 3-2 this season when playing
without Shaq. "We will miss him," says Lakers coach Del Harris,
"but we still have a pretty good team." Don't believe for a
second, though, that over the long haul the other Lakers, 37-14
through Sunday, will be able to win as many games without O'Neal
as they could with him. After all, at the time of his injury,
Shaq was averaging 25.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks.
The Sonics, the Jazz and the Rockets are better than the
Shaq-less Lakers and will still be better when O'Neal returns
because he will be rusty and out of shape.

How good the Lakers will be in Shaq's absence will depend partly
on O'Neal's replacement, Elden Campbell, the talented,
enigmatic, often uninspired 6'11" forward. At week's end
Campbell was averaging 23 points and 10.8 rebounds when Shaq was
out of the lineup (the overall numbers were 12.5 and 8.1,
respectively), including a 34-point, 14-rebound effort in a
106-90 win over the Bulls on Feb. 5. However, it's foolhardy to
think that Campbell can play at that high level for two months.

That means the Lakers will have to rely even more on guards
Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. Jones has developed into one of
the best all-around 2 guards in the conference, but he insists,
"I'm a role player. Shaq is our superstar. I back him up." Not

As for Miami, on Valentine's Day it made what could turn out to
be a sweetheart of a trade. The Heat got the slumping Mashburn,
a 24-year-old, fourth-year veteran who had a 21.8 career scoring
average entering this season, for a one-dimensional shooting
guard (Sasha Danilovic), an injured forward (promising Kurt
Thomas) and a project (forward Martin Muursepp). Mashburn, with
his sweeping crossover dribble and deep shooting range, gives
Miami a third big scorer to go with its two All-Stars, guard Tim
Hardaway and center Alonzo Mourning.

The trade prolongs Heat coach Pat Riley's tradition of making
midseason moves. The guy Miami really wanted, Kings All-Star
shooting guard Mitch Richmond, was unattainable. But Don Nelson,
who had been on the job as the Mavericks' general manager for
only seven days, dangled Mashburn, who desperately wanted out of
a losing situation. Coincidentally, days before the trade,
Richmond had said that Nelson, one of his former coaches (at
Golden State), "does know talent. I just hope that he doesn't
give it all away."

Mashburn is talented, but he has never been Riley's type of
player. Mashburn is a terrible defender--it's no coincidence
that he has never fouled out of an NBA game. At 6'8" and 250
pounds, Mashburn is strong, but instead of playing near the
basket he chooses to fire up three-pointers. (Through Sunday
more than one third of his shot attempts this year had been
treys.) Two years ago he averaged 24.1 points and shot 43.6%
from the field; at week's end his numbers this season were 10.7
and 37.4%. Plus he has lost some of his explosiveness because of
the knee surgery that kept him out of 64 games in 1995-96.

On the other hand, given that the Heat didn't surrender much to
get him, acquiring Mashburn was a gamble worth taking. In his
debut with the Heat last Saturday night, Mashburn entered the
game against the Sixers to an ovation from the fans at the Miami
Arena and scored 14 points in 32 minutes in a 125-99 win, the
Heat's ninth straight. If Mashburn plays up to his ability--and
Riley can help him improve his overall game--the Heat will
really be on.


A guy named Christian and another guy nicknamed the Worm were
matched in a fierce, tight game on Valentine's Day before a
teeming mousse-and-boots crowd in Atlanta. The Bulls were trying
to keep intact their reputation as the best road team in the
NBA. The Hawks, who had beaten Chicago 108-103 at the Omni on
Dec. 26, were trying to extend a 20-game home winning streak.
Dennis (the Worm) Rodman did not start at power forward for the
Bulls, but he did play 30 minutes, including 17 in the second
half. For Christian Laettner, the Hawks' power forward, that was
a half hour of hell.

Rodman was in Laettner's face--and got into his head,
too--spewing a steady stream of trash, praise, apology and
ridicule. Rodman also used virtually every piece of his anatomy
to stop Laettner, including the top of his dyed-yellow head,
which Rodman stuck in Laettner's chest and rotated back and
forth, like a sponge cleaning the inside of a glass. Rodman
fouled out with 36 seconds left in the game, but he had done his
job, and the Bulls won 89-88.

"Christian Laettner tried to play a little of my game, and that
just ain't happening," said Rodman, who had 12 rebounds. "He
got, what, four points in the second half?"

Actually, it was six, and a team-high 21 for the night--and not
for a moment did Laettner try to play Rodman's game. He played
his own. The potential game-winning shot was in his hands at the
buzzer, from three-point land, but it fell a foot short. By that
point, Rodman was on the bench, his sneakers off, his arms

"All I know is that he fouled out," Laettner said. "I wasn't
going to let him take me out of my game. The only time I think
about Dennis Rodman is when I'm on the court. And I don't even
think about him much then." --MICHAEL BAMBERGER


Suns guard Steve Nash, Feb. 11 against the Trail Blazers: 6
minutes, 0-0 field goals, 0-0 free throws, 0 rebounds, 0
assists, 6 personal fouls. That's right--all zeros save for six
fouls in six minutes. Nash became the 12th player in NBA history
to foul out in six or fewer minutes. The quickest exit belongs
to the Syracuse Nationals' Dick Farley, who fouled out in five
minutes in a 1956 game against the St. Louis Hawks.


At week's end the 24-27 Bullets had three players (forwards
Juwan Howard and Chris Webber and guard Rod Strickland) with 150
or more turnovers; the Bucks and 76ers were the only other teams
with as many as two such players.... When the Grizzlies led by
22 in a 106-101 win over the Spurs on Feb. 12, it was the
largest lead in their 1 1/2-season history.... On Feb. 12 Suns
point guard Kevin Johnson had a triple double at halftime of a
131-100 win over the Celtics. Boston's Rick Fox said if Johnson
had played the whole second half, "he would have had the first
20-20-20 triple double." Make that the second. Wilt Chamberlain
had 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists for the 76ers in a
131-121 win over the Pistons on Feb. 2, 1968.

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD LEWIS/NBA PHOTOS Mash had a hot start, burning the Sixers for 14 points in his Heat debut. [Jamal Mashburn and others in game]

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO To throw Laettner (32) off stride, Rodman did the bump-and-grind. [Christian Laettner and Dennis Rodman in game]