Shaquille O’Neal’s best days were supposedly behind him. Apparently that’s not the case.
After recording his first 40-plus point game since his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, O’Neal faces his former team for the second time in four days Sunday afternoon as the Phoenix Suns look to snap a three-game home losing streak to a Lakers team coming off one of the franchise’s worst performances ever.
O’Neal, who turns 37 next Friday, hit 20 of 25 shots and scored 45 on Friday night as the Suns (33-25) defeated visiting Toronto 133-113. It was his 49th career 40-plus point game and first since scoring 48 for Los Angeles in a 104-96 win over Boston on March 21, 2003.
O’Neal had 37 40-plus point games with the Lakers from 1996-04.
“If I can get the touches like that, it doesn’t matter who is down there,” said O’Neal, who grabbed 11 rebounds against the Raptors for his 22nd double-double of the season. “They’re going to have to double or triple me down there. If they don’t, especially with the way I’m shooting free throws, they will have to pay.”
O’Neal is shooting a career-best 62.9 percent from the foul line.
In Thursday’s 132-106 loss to the host Lakers (48-11), O’Neal had 12 points and seven boards as Phoenix fell to 1-6 against Los Angeles since eliminating its Pacific Division rival from the first round of the 2007 Western Conference playoffs.
Having Steve Nash on the court Sunday would help, but he is questionable after missing the last two games with a sprained right ankle suffered in Phoenix’s 112-102 win over Charlotte on Tuesday. The Suns have dropped five of eight this season without the two-time league MVP.
Last season’s MVP, Kobe Bryant, had 29 points in Friday’s 90-79 loss at Denver but missed 21 of 31 shots from the field.
Los Angeles, among the league’s top shooting teams at 47.7 percent, had its six-game winning streak snapped as it made a season-low 29.8 percent from the field. It was its second-worst shooting effort since the franchise relocated to Los Angeles prior to the 1960-61 season.
The Lakers shot 29.4 percent in a 104-78 loss at Utah on Nov. 3, 2004.
“That was a garbage game, no doubt about it,” coach Phil Jackson said Friday. “I wish we could repay the fans some money for that game. Neither team played very well, but they played better than us.”
Friday’s game was the Lakers’ third in four nights.
“They played really aggressively defensively,” Bryant said. “On top of that, we just didn’t have any legs. On top of them doing a good job and us having no legs, we just had a horrible shooting effort.”
Bryant, though, had his best shooting performance of the season, in terms of percentage, by hitting 10 of 13 shots (76.9) and scoring 22 points Thursday as the Lakers improved to 3-0 against Phoenix this season.
Lamar Odom posted his eighth double-double of the season Friday with 12 points and 19 rebounds but shot just 5-of-17 from the field. He hit 11 of 12 shots and scored 23 in Thursday’s victory.