LOS ANGELES -- Rarely, if ever this season, have the 76ers had a look of utter resignation on their faces. But there's a first time for everything, especially when a team goes up against the Los Angeles Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal.
The NBA's most dominant force was his usual self Friday night, toying with the Sixers before crushing them with a torrid fourth-quarter stretch. O'Neal finished with a game-high 37 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists and 8 blocked shots, lifting the Lakers to a 100-88 victory at the Staples Center.
In the process, he took the NBA scoring lead away from Sixers guard Allen Iverson, who finished with 15 points.
"It's bad enough he's as awesome as he is, but then he was just standing there in the paint and getting the ball," the Sixers' Theo Ratliff said. "When he gets the ball that close to the basket, there isn't anything anyone can do about stopping him. It's impossible."
The win gave the Lakers a season sweep of the Sixers and improved their record to a league-best 61-12. It was the second consecutive loss for the Sixers (42-30). They have a chance to salvage their five-game road swing with a victory in Sacramento this afternoon, but that might be the furthest thing from their minds.
The last thing any team bound for the playoffs wants to admit is that it simply was not good enough.
"When I looked at halftime, we were down five after they shot 55 percent and had 10 more rebounds than us -- I was pretty excited," Sixers coach Larry Brown said. "But we had no answer for Shaq. I thought all their complementary players were great."
Up 78-69 at the end of the third quarter, the Lakers stopped playing games and decided to put the game away. In other words, they gave the ball to O'Neal.
O'Neal started the quarter with a jump hook over Matt Geiger. Then he rejected a jump shot by Tyrone Hill. After a baseline pull-up jumper by Kobe Bryant, he posted up Geiger then drilled a turn-around jumper before scoring on a follow-up layup. Before the Sixers could muster a futile game plan to stop O'Neal, the Lakers had gone on an 8-0 run. When 3 minutes, 53 seconds remained in the game, the situation had only deteriorated for the Sixers.
The score was 94-79. O'Neal had scored 14 of the Lakers' 16 fourth-quarter points. And because Lakers coach Phil Jackson saw that O'Neal had demoralized the Sixers, he allowed the star center to exit with more than three minutes left to a chorus of applause and the team music from the movie Superman.
"He was just dominant," the Sixers' Aaron McKie said. "He did everything when he wanted to, how he wanted to. We didn't have an answer for him tonight."