Shaquille O’Neal’s latest nickname for himself is “The MDE.”
Most Dominant Ever.
And there is no team O’Neal would rather dominate than the Sacramento Kings.
With the Los Angeles Lakers focused on coming together before the start of the playoffs, O’Neal will look to lead them past their division rivals when they meet at Staples Center.
“We’re winning games, but we’re not winning them pretty,” O’Neal said. “We’re still learning each other—we’re going to be fine. The last few games, we’ve had 15-point, 17-point leads and let teams get back in it.”
O’Neal turned in one of the most impressive individual performances of the season Sunday, finishing with 31 points, a season-high 26 rebounds and seven blocks in a 104-103 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I was just told by (assistant coach) Tex Winter to get all the boards I can, so I just went after them,” said O’Neal, who is averaging 15.6 rebounds over the past eight games.
While O’Neal was clearly the star, Kobe Bryant hit a game-winning jumper with 25.1 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Lakers their fifth consecutive victory.
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson believes the Lakers can finish the regular season like they did in 2001, when they won their final eight games before going 15-1 in the playoffs.
“I think it’s possible,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have to have that rejuvenation at some point, where you can get that energy shot. It’s going to come from Shaq rebounding, defensively. That’s where we get our strength as a basketball team is from his turn at the end of the season to a defensive, rebounding player.”
Although the Kings still have a 3 1/2 -game lead over the Lakers in the Pacific Division, they have lost three of their last five.
With Tuesday’s 112-101 loss to the Bucks, the Kings fell a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers for the best record in the NBA. The loss also snapped their 29-game home winning streak against Eastern Conference teams.
Reserve guard Bobby Jackson, last season’s Sixth Man of the Year, missed his 18th straight game with an abdominal injury.