|Wednesday, March 19
Updated: March 20, 12:58 PM ET
Shaq says Iverson, not Bibby, belongs on Olympic team
As if the Los Angeles Lakers' rivalry with the Sacramento Kings needed any more vitriol, Shaq provided some in the days before the three-time defending champions' final regular season trip to Cowbell Country on Thursday night.
At issue is the Olympic team's selection of Bibby, the Kings' quietly efficient point guard. He played the best basketball of his NBA career during last season's epic Western Conference finals against the Lakers -- but O'Neal apparently wasn't impressed.
"How did Mike Bibby get on the team?'' Shaq wondered aloud. "Any Cub Scout with Boy Scouts can do Boy Scoutish things. When (Bibby) was in the Cub Scouts, he was a Cub Scout. When he was with Vancouver, nobody heard about (him). Now that he's with Sacramento ... he's on the team. I ain't going.
"And Allen Iverson isn't on the team? Why not? (U.S. coach) Larry Brown should have said, 'If he's not on the team, I'm not going.'''
After the Kings' victory over Golden State on Tuesday night, Bibby refused to take the bait. Though he has become much more vocal on and off the court during his two seasons in Sacramento, Bibby prefers living in relative anonymity -- and doing his talking on the court.
"I don't care what he says about me,'' Bibby said. "I don't care what anybody says. It's not going to affect me.''
"That's just talk from a guy who likes to talk,'' Sacramento's Bobby Jackson said. "Nobody cares. You can't listen to everything he says. Even he don't listen to everything he says.
"Shaq is looking to get the rivalry started already, before the playoffs even start. He has no right to criticize Mike about making the Olympic team.''
At least the scouting analogies are an improvement on O'Neal's previous description of the Kings this season. The Queens, as Shaq dubbed them, remain focused on the merit badges they still don't have.
The NBA's most entertaining rivalry has been full of intrigue this season, starting when Doug Christie and Rick Fox fought each other in an exhibition game and continuing through the Kings' convincing win at Staples Center on Christmas Day, spoiling the debut of the Lakers' new white uniforms.
The teams have met twice so far this season, with each winning on the other's home floor. With less than a month left in the regular season, both teams are less concerned about sending a message to their rivals than improving their playoff position.
"We know it's become much more difficult over the last three years, but we've never doubted our abilities to beat this team,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "That's one of the great things about being a champion is that you have the confidence factor to go back to things that have happened.''
Though Sacramento is in position for its second straight Pacific Division title, the Lakers are steadily gaining steam with an eye toward the playoffs. Los Angeles has its eye on Minnesota and Portland, which currently hold the fourth and fifth spots in the Western Conference.
If the Lakers can overtake one or both, they'll avoid a first-round matchup with San Antonio, Sacramento or league-leading Dallas -- not that they'd ever admit to concern about any playoff opponent.
"We're the ones that other people have to worry about,'' guard Derek Fisher said. "We've got the rings.''
There's one difference in the Kings' preparation for Thursday's chapter of the rivalry: For the first time all season, Sacramento is completely healthy.
Reserve big man Scot Pollard, an important factor in the Kings' ability to limit O'Neal's effectiveness, is back near playing shape after missing all but 10 games this season, while Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Keon Clark are in top shape. Even seldom-used backup Lawrence Funderburke, occasionally called upon to spell his teammates against O'Neal, is ready to go.
"I don't know if you can ever be prepared for Shaq, but we've got healthy bodies, and that's a start,'' Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. "It's always a motivation to play those guys, but nobody is seeing this game as anything more than another one we've got to win if we're going to catch Dallas.''