One is a self-described Manof Steel who has even been turned into a cartoon hero. The other has a cartoon tattooed on his leg. One slapped. The other was the one he slapped. One is being mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan as the greatest player currently in the game. The other sdmits the high point in his basketball career occurred when he was still in high school. The Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal and the Jazz's Greg Ostertag are opposites who will collide again beginning Saturday courtesy of the NBA playoffs. Can Fred Flintstone give Superman a run for his money? The outcome of the Western Conference Finals may be predicated on that answer - whatever it is.
Greg Ostertag received a lucrative, six-year contract extension from the Utah Jazz in part because he had a good series in the playoffs guarding the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal last year.But in the three regular season games O'Neal played against the Jazz this regular season, Ostertag became just another Shaq snack. In fact, O'Neal shot 9-of-13 from the field (69 percent) when matched up against Utah's only seven footer. The Lakers out-scored the Jazz by 14 points (58-44) when O'Neal and Ostertag were on the court at the same time.
By comparison, the Lakers outscored the Jazz by a total of only two points (137-135) when O'Neal was going against Greg Foster or Antoine Carr. O'Neal shot 50 percent (15-of-30) combined when Foster and Carr were playing center against him.
So how will the Jazz try to shackle Shaq during the Western Conference Finals?
"We have a game plan (for guarding O'Neal) and we're going to keep it to ourselves," said Karl Malone.
The Jazz will again use the defender-by-committee approach - with Foster, Ostertag, Carr and even Malone taking their turns - to try to slow down the Lakers' 7-1, 315- pound Diesel.
The key word there is "try." O'Neal has been the most dominant force in the playoffs thus far.
"I wish there was some easy way to guard him, but there is no easy way," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
O'Neal is averaging 29.9 points with a 64.1 shooting percentage through nine playoff games.
"We'll have three or four different guys try to guard him," said Sloan. "We'll just try to make him work as much as possible."
The Jazz centers, no doubt, will get some double-team help. Utah will likely try to mix it up, not having the double team come from the same person every time and not doubling at all other times so the Lakers are left guessing. The Jazz risk getting burned on the outside by the Lakers' outstanding 3-point shooters by doubling on O'Neal, but it's a gamble they'll have to take some of the time.
Then again, Sloan says O'Neal's deceptive speed makes it difficult to get help on him in time.
"He's just so quick that he turns and goes through you before you have a chance to double-team him," said the Jazz coach.
Another strategy for playing O'Neal is the "Hack a Shaq" method. Since the Laker center is a noted brick layer at the foul line and since the Jazz have 18 fouls to give between Ostertag, Foster and Carr, this might be the best option.
"At every opportunity we'll probably have to try to put him on the foul line," said Sloan.
"Otherwise he might get 80 points against us."
O'Neal has been a bit better from the line of late. He made nearly 60 percent of his foul shots against Seattle in the last series (37-of-62) after shooting 52.7 percent from the line during the regular season.
Foster, who weighs 80 to 100 pounds less than O'Neal, will continue to be the starter at center for the Jazz.
"I'm like Sugar Ray and he's like Tyson," said Foster, comparing the weight disparity with a boxing analogy. "I've got to move around so that I don't get pounded on."
Foster's says he'll be physical, while trying to stay out of foul trouble.
"It's not my intention to go out there and foul the guy," said Foster. "I want to play the guy as straight up as I can. I want to stay out on the floor and play too . . . .Obviously if he gets something in deep when he's going to get a dunk, you're going to want to foul him. But other than that, I'm not going to try to hack him because then I'll have to go sit down after two minutes on the floor. I don't want to do that. I want to play."
Carr knows the series will be physical, too.
"It's going to be like an episode of the Jerry Springer Show," said the Big Dawg.
The best defense on O'Neal could start on the offensive end of the floor. The theory is that if the Jazz center makes O'Neal work hard and run the court, it may tire him out on the other end.
"I need to make him think about me, too, on the offensive end," said Foster.
"You have to make the big guys run," said Malone. "Then at the end of the ball game, maybe
their big guys won't have that finish after running the whole game."
Still, the Jazz know they have their hands full with O'Neal.
"I don't know if we can deal with him," said Sloan. "He' playing the best basketball of his career."
Lakers vs. Jazz
Game 1 Los Angeles
Saturday at Utah
May 16 TV Time: NBC, 1:30 p.m.
Game 2 Los Angeles
Monday at Utah
May 18 TV Time: TNT, KJZZ, 6:30 p.m.
Game 3 Utah at
May 22 Los Angeles
TV Time: TNT, KJZZ
Game 4 Utah at
May 24 Los Angeles
TV Time: NBC, 1:30 p.m.
Game 5 Los Angeles
May 26 at Utah
TV Time: NBC, 7:00 p.m.
Game 6 Utah at
May 29 Los Angeles
TV Time: To be announced
Game 7 Los Angeles
May 31 at Utah
TV Time: To be announced