After a stunning comeback from the brink of elimination, Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers have one more obstacle to a long-awaited NBA title -- the Indiana Pacers.
The best-of-seven NBA Finals begin in Los Angeles, Wednesday with the Lakers trying for their first title in 12 years and the Pacers in their first championship series in the club's 24-year history after four prior semifinal defeats.
Having won six championships with the Chicago Bulls, coach Phil Jackson is four victories from never having anyone say he couldn't win without Michael Jordan.
Both clubs were an NBA-best 36-5 at home this season in new arenas and 8-2 at home in the playoffs. Indiana beat Los Angeles in January to snap a 16-game-winning streak. The Lakers won their 14th in a row in a home rematch in March.
The Lakers began the playoffs as big favorites, but the invincibility aura has died. Sacramento pushed them to a do-or-die game in round one. Portland took a 16-point lead Sunday but choked away their title chance in a collapse nearly as painful to watch as Greg Norman's legendary Masters' fade.
O'Neal also has something to prove. He took Orlando to the 1995 final only to be swept, then signed a seven-year, $120 million deal with the Lakers.
In his eighth season, the massive 28-year-old center has yet to claim a title and justify the riches that have set up his movie and music careers. His physical size and potential have not yet paid off and even he has said this season will be a failure without the NBA title.
"I'm happy, but there is still a job to do," O'Neal said. "We've still got to get four more" - (Several Sources)
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