Shaquille O’Neal has not only been playing like his old self lately, after his Cavaliers beat the Magic Monday, he was talking like his old self as well.
And Shaq went off on Dwight Howard and the fact the Magic chose to double team him. Starting by saying “Superman my ass.”
“When I was coming up and there was Pat Ewing and Hakeem (Olajuwon) and I never doubled anybody. You tell me who the real Superman is. Don’t compare me to nobody. I’d rather not me mentioned, I’m offended.”
“Don’t let them double team me and make it a him vs. me thing. 18 years straight: Hakeem, (Pat) Ewing, Rik Smits, (Tim) Duncan, (David) Robinson, the best of the best, straight up. I never doubled nobody. Nor have I ever asked for double team.”
Shaq learned a few things from Phil Jackson back in the day — his “off the cuff” remarks often have a subtext and goal.
Even with what’s left of Shaq, he is hard to cover one-on-one — he is too big, too strong, too savvy in getting off his shots to really stop if he gets the ball deep on the block. But he can’t beat the double team like he once did. The Magic’s system took him largely out of the game — he had 10 points, six rebounds and sat out a lot with foul trouble.
So Shaq challenges Howard’s manhood, tries to goad him into single coverage for the next meeting. Because as good a defender as Howard is, Shaq can do some damage one-on-one. Shaq was trying to set up the two meetings left between these teams, and more importantly the playoff meetings down the line.
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“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.
“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”
That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.
I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?
It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.