LOS ANGELES -- The chant has been the same for a couple of months now.
Never before had it been backed by such a loud crowd. Never before had it been supported by such meaningful evidence.
It was the third quarter, the Lakers were rolling.
And just to comply, Shaquille O'Neal did the one thing that had been missing from his game Friday night and made a couple of free throws.
With the league's most valuable player decided long ago, it is now a matter of determining exactly what type O'Neal would be. A Michael Jordan MVP, who goes on to elevate his play in the postseason? Or a Karl Malone MVP, who can't live up to the standard when it matters most?
Put him in the Jordan category. For now.
That's the point, though. The story isn't finished. The season continues.
Because of O'Neal.
Because of 32 points and 18 rebounds and three blocked shots in only 35 minutes.
Because he established his presence from the opening possession.
Because he jumped so high for rebounds even the folks in the upper concourse of Staples Center got an up-close look at him. (Now that's high).
Because the Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings, 113-86, and will move on to play the Phoenix Suns in the second round.
Staples Center became Shaq's Shack this season, when he made it the place to be to watch the best player in the league.
But his status came into question after the Kings made him just an ordinary component in the two games in Sacramento.
So now the first-round series had returned to L.A., the Lakers' season in jeopardy, the best year of O'Neal's career down to a one-game referendum.
The national media, who didn't expect to come to L.A. until much later, when it was time for the coronation, instead descended like a pack of vultures expecting a kill.
Phil Jackson didn't have anything special to say to O'Neal between games.
Just the usual. Get some rest. Do the things you need to do to get yourself ready physically for the game. Be ready.
O'Neal needed to do the things that made him the MVP in the first place. Control both ends of the court. Find the open man when surrounded. Give the Lakers energy. Give them peace of mind.
Jackson has been serene throughout the week. Maybe the reason he could afford to be so calm was because he already has his six rings. Even if it doesn't change the knock that he couldn't win them without Michael, it doesn't take them away. You don't see lottery winners giving back the money because they don't feel they earned it, do you?
Shaq is different. Shaq's fingers are bare, his top shelves empty.
If O'Neal lost this game he shouldn't even have bothered to show up when the most-valuable-player award is announced. The announcement usually comes during the conference finals, and the MVP usually still plays during the conference finals.
Had the Lakers lost, O'Neal could've just sent bodyguard Jerome Crawford to pick it up.
Friday night, O'Neal made it clear from the outset that he wanted to do the work himself.
Call it the new triangle offense, the words flowing from O'Neal's father, Phil Harrison, to Shaq to Phil Jackson
With Shaq down in the dumps, he talked to his dad about his disappointing play in Sacramento.
''He said, 'You idiot, you always play bad in Sacramento. Just play good at home,''' O'Neal said.
''It kind of eased me down. ...
''I just felt it tonight. I told Phil, 'Bring it to me.' ''
That's just what Jackson wanted to hear from his star center, and he delighted in running the first play for him.
''It was Shaquille right away, putting on a display of dominance,'' Jackson said. ''He went right at it.''
After winning the opening tip, he got the ball one-on-one against Vlade Divac. When Jason Williams dropped down to help, O'Neal spun toward the baseline and floated a jumper that dropped through the net.
If that set the tone, the outcome was decided as soon as the officials called illegal defense on back-to-back plays in the first quarter. That meant O'Neal would have freedom to roam the paint. Chris Webber was too far away to help. After blocking two of O'Neal's shots in Game 4, when Webber first tried to swat an O'Neal hook Friday he was right under the basket and was called for goaltending.
But O'Neal was so active, and his teammates did such a good job of getting the ball to him in motion, he usually got his shot before help could arrive.
Shaq returned the favor by working the ball to his teammate. He finished with four assists.
He repeatedly showed the Kings why it would be a bad idea for them to come inside; the Lakers had a 62-26 advantage in points in the paint.
About the only detour now is to collect the MVP trophy.
Expect him to still be wearing his uniform when he gets it.
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