Though his most recent outing offered a reminder that he’s still capable of dominating inside, he’ll have to wait a few months to prove it in Los Angeles.
After delivering a vintage performance in his last game, O’Neal won’t play Wednesday night when his Phoenix Suns visit the Pacific Division rival Lakers for the first time since acquiring the veteran center last February.
O’Neal won’t be with the Suns (13-9) while he attends the funeral of his 92-year-old great-grandmother. He’ll have to wait for a chance to build on his best game since Phoenix acquired him from Miami before last season’s trade deadline.
O’Neal, who has at times struggled to fit in with the Suns’ fast-paced offense, scored 35 points while making 14 of 19 shots from the field to lead Phoenix to a 125-110 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday night. It was his highest point total since he had 35 in a win over Charlotte while with Miami on March 6, 2006.
“They keep feeding me like that, those are the type of numbers that they can expect out of me,” said O’Neal, who added eight rebounds and three blocked shots. “But sometimes I get those shots and sometimes I don’t.”
After Phoenix shot 58.7 percent as a team in its second consecutive win following a four-game losing streak, O’Neal sounded optimistic that the inconsistent Suns were on the verge of figuring things out.
“That’s what everybody envisioned for us to go far,” O’Neal said. “That’s the type of game we can play.”
The team will look a little different Wednesday, however, when O’Neal will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Robin Lopez. Phoenix, which is 1-2 in the games O’Neal has sat out this season, next visits Los Angeles on Feb. 26.
O’Neal will miss what would have been his third game against the Lakers at Staples Center - and his first with Phoenix - since his 2004 departure from the Lakers, the team he helped win three straight NBA titles from 2000-2002.
Los Angeles (17-3) is among the early favorites to win this season’s championship, but didn’t look like a contender in a surprising 113-101 loss to Sacramento on Tuesday night.
Reigning league MVP Kobe Bryant missed 11 of his first 13 shots and finished 9-for-25 from the field as the Lakers shot 40.2 percent as a team.
“I just couldn’t get in a rhythm,” said Bryant, who had 28 points.
Lakers sixth man Lamar Odom admitted the team may have looked past Sacramento in anticipation for the meeting with Phoenix.
“We came in here thinking we were going to win, and we didn’t respect our opponent,” said Odom, who had 11 points for his first double-digit effort in seven games. “You’ve got to play with a certain energy. If you don’t, you could lose to Westchester High School.”
The Lakers will likely be more prepared for this meeting with the Suns, who have lost four of the last five in the series, including the teams’ first meeting this season. With 24 points, Bryant was one of six Los Angeles players to score in double figures in a 105-92 road win Nov. 20.