Not the life of the party

Updated: April 20, 2004, 1:51 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

WHAT A SCOUT SAYS
Shaquille O'Neal
O'Neal
About Shaquille O'Neal and Game 1 against Houston:

"I think that's the worst game you're going to see out of Shaq and the Lakers. But that's just the way Houston plays. They're always ugly. (Jeff) Van Gundy has them playing pretty good defense, so it's usually a slow, grind-it-out game. I agree with you -- I was a little surprised Shaq didn't dominate more in (Game 1). I thought he'd get more than 20 rebounds. But he doesn't make his free throws. If he made more of his free throws (4 for 14), we'd all be talking about what a great game he had. But you can't but wonder if the free throws are really going to cost the Lakers down the road."

You can't call it a weekend totally devoid of surprises, even though the higher seeds, all playing at home, went 8-0 in Game 1s for the first time since 1990.

At least I can't.

Not when the Lakers looked so lifeless in Game 1 of the (second) season they've all been waiting for.

They're banged up, sure, but I've been saying for days that I expected Shaquille O'Neal to be in a rim-rattling mood, eager not to let Yao Ming have even a sniff of glory on such a big stage.

The good news: Shaq still has plenty of time, starting Monday night, to be the Lakers' main energy source in this series. I still see Shaq doing more of the carrying against Yao's Rockets, instead of ace closer Kobe Bryant.

  • Lakers coach Phil Jackson keeps dropping the same answer when asked if a 10th championship ring in June would lead to his immediate retirement: "Good possibility." That's the most you can get out of him, though.

  • I'll continue to say the Pacers aren't as deep as their reputation suggests, with Brad Miller in Sacramento and a so-so triumvirate of point guards running the offense, but it's tough to see Indy losing Game 2 at home to Boston even if Ron Artest gets two dispatches from the league Monday -- a one-game suspension for straying from the bench during a Game 1 skirmish to go with official confirmation of his Defensive Player of the Year victory. If Artest is forced to sit out a game, Rick Carlisle will inevitably put Al Harrington on Paul Pierce, and Harrington will have an opportunity to show the world why he's convinced he deserves to be a starter next season.

  • Any leftover confusion regarding Minnesota's desire to acquire Sam Cassell was eradicated in Sunday night's Game 1 against Denver, when Sam I Am erupted for 40 points to steady the nervy Wolves in their first-ever victory in a Game 1. The following will only add to his rep as a ruthless playoff performer: Cassell is one of only six players to score 40 points or more in his first playoff game with a new team. Shaq holds the record with 46 points in his first playoff game as a Laker in 1997, followed by Phoenix's Rex Chapman (42 in 1997), New York's Bob McAdoo (41 in 1978), New Jersey's Drazen Petrovic (40 in 1992) and New York's Bernard King (40 in 1983).

  • Anyone else get the feeling that Mehmet Okur, who logged only nine minutes in Detroit's Game 1 romp over Milwaukee, is going to be highly available this summer? After averaging 10.8 points and 11 rebounds against the Bucks during the regular season, Okur logged just six more minutes than Darko Milicic. By now it should be fairly clear that, if the Pistons can only afford to sign one of their free-agent big men this summer, it's going to be Rasheed Wallace.

  • Nick Van Exel: Why so quiet on "Inside The NBA?" You're almost as loquacious as Le Chuckster. Tell those guys to let you talk more Monday night.

    Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
    • Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics
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