The Phoenix Suns don't like to double-team anybody, including Shaquille O'Neal. They paid the price for the strategy Monday night.
O'Neal scored 34 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked eight shots in his most dominating game this season as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Suns 91-82.
Suns coach Danny Ainge said Shaq dishes out more punishment than he gets, despite protests from Lakers coach Phil Jackson that his star center gets abused by opposing teams.
"Phil's been doing that. He protected Michael (Jordan). That's his job as coach."
O'Neal, in his second game back from a one-game suspension for his fight with Charles Barkley, even made six of 10 free throws in the final quarter. The Suns, concerned about foul trouble, could only employ the Hack Shaq method in the second half.
"I wasn't in the paint most of the night, and they didn't have 18 fouls to give like some teams," O'Neal said. "I just hit the shots they wanted me to take. They didn't really double me. That was nice."
O'Neal was 14-of-27 from the field.
"Our policy as a team is we don't double-team necessarily," said Suns center Luc Longley, "and it was a long night down there with Shaq one-on-one. I actually did a fairly good job. He made some tough shots."
Jackson said the Suns weren't sure how to guard O'Neal.
"They didn't know what they wanted to do with him," Jackson said. "They didn't want to get Longley in foul trouble. I can understand that. He was making some shots they wanted him to take."
Lo Angeles was 31-of-46 at the foul line, compared with the Suns' 14-of-19.
Glen Rice scored 23 points for the Lakers, including 11 of 12 free throws, three of them after technical fouls. Derek Fisher added 18 points, including a 20-footer that put the Lakers up 85-80 with 1:54 to play. The Suns' Rodney Rogers was called for a technical foul on the play for shoving A.C. Green, and Rice made the free throw to make it 86-80.
Jason Kidd had 20 points and 10 assists for the Suns, who lost their third in a row. But his backcourt mate Penny Hardaway struggled through a 5-for-15 shooting night for 12 points.
After Kidd's jumper cut the lead to 82-80 with 2:13 to play, the Lakers scored the next nine points, all but two of them from the free-throw line.
The Suns are having a hard time making anything from outside.
"They're daring us to shoot right now," Ainge said. "It's like in football they've got 10 men on the line of scrimmage and they're daring us to throw the football. If we can't throw it, we can't win. We had some wide-open shots. If we can't make those, we're going to have a hard time winning."
Phoenix, which lost its third in a row, shot a season-low 37 percent from the field. The Lakers shot 38 percent.
In the first half, O'Neal blocked five shots and scored 18 points on 9-for-16 shooting. But he was on the bench during most of a 13-2 run that gave Los Angeles a 33-23 lead on Derek Fisher's 3-pointer with 10:11 left in the first half.
The Suns scored the last six points of the half to tie it at 46-46 on Cliff Robinson's 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left. The Lakers led most of the third quarter, but never by more than six points. Los Angeles was up 67-64 entering the final quarter.
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