Can they hack it without Shaq?
?The injury. With All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal out for six to eight weeks with a fractured right thumb, Orlando will be a different team from the one that went to the NBA Finals last season. Journeyman Jon Koncak, a free-agent acquisition from the Atlanta Hawks, will start. However, Koncak is a perimeter player, leaving forward Horace Grant as Orlando's main force in the post.
?The key. With Shaq out, head coach Brian Hill will set brilliant 6'7" point guard Anfernee Hardaway loose. A sturdier Hardaway, 19 pounds heavier this season than last, might demonstrate that he, not Shaq, is the team's most valuable player.
?The line. That's where the Magic will improve with Shaq sidelined. Last season Orlando shot an NBA-worst 66.9% from the line, with O'Neal clanking away at 53.3%.
?Outlook. Before Shaq's injury, Orlando was a lock for the division's top spot. Now, says Hardaway, "we're going to have to step up our game an extra notch."
Employing a full Nelson
?New offense. New head coach Don Nelson's motion offense is certainly fitting for bustling New York. There is constant movement in the key, and shooting guard John Starks will dart in and out of the commotion like a bicycle messenger in traffic. There are isolation plays for point forward Anthony Mason, sixth man turned starter. The Knicks, who had been under the shackles of Pat Riley's bruising, defense-oriented style for four years, hope that all of this controlled chaos leads to a rejuvenated offense.
?Ready for the rocking chair? Point guard Derek Harper, age 34; All-Star center Patrick Ewing, 33; forward Charles Oakley, 31; Starks, 30. "Age is a state of mind," says Ewing, whose knees, not his mind, are the problem. In the off-season Ewing had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee for the fourth time.
?Outlook. The Knicks are still a considerable force on defense, and if they adjust to Nellie's offense, New York will finish second in the division.
If Price is right....