MINNEAPOLIS -- Was there a plot to embarrass Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal in last night's All-Star Game, or was it just a coincidence that every time the league's leading scorer touched the ball, defenders were suddenly playing defense as if it were the NBA Finals?
All the principals denied there was a plot, but the fact that O'Neal scored eight points and hit two of 12 shots from the field -- he missed his first 10 -- demonstrated that perhaps a lesson was to be taught to the second-year All-Star.
"No," was O'Neal's response, when asked whether the West intentionally keyed on him. "They just respect me down there."
But that type of defense? In an All-Star Game? It almost bought back memories of 1985, when there were reports that players tried to freeze Michael Jordan out of the offense. Jordan, making his first All-Star appearance, scored seven points.
In the first half yesterday, O'Neal was 0-for-8 from the field, with half of those shots getting blocked. On one of his shots, Karl Malone, Shawn Kemp and Hakeem Olajuwon went up for a block attempt.
"I've never seen that in an All-Star Game, when the defense has gotten so into it," East coach Lenny Wilkens.
West players said it was simply a case of sliding down to help when O'Neal got the ball in the blocks.
"There was a lot of help double-teaming the post," Olajuwon said.
"When you ask me if guys are going to be more into it, yes," said San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson. "But nobody mentioned going out and stopping him. We said if he got the ball in the middle, we'd help out."
What did O'Neal think about his performance? "It's kind of frustrating," he said. "But my team won."
Muresan was there
Although the Washington Bullets didn't have a representative in the game, 7-foot-7 center Gheorghe Muresan was there.
Muresan spent most of the morning signing autographs at the Jam Session festivities and the evening providing commentary for Romanian television.