Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal returned to the lineup last Friday after missing 20 games with a strained abdominal muscle and broken right wrist. The key to L.A.'s championship hopes now is whether coach Del Harris can find a way for O'Neal and Elden Campbell, who averaged 17.5 points and 7.6 rebounds in Shaq's absence, to be productive when they're on the floor together.
Sources tell SI that a settlement between the league and suspended Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell before Sprewell's Jan. 27 arbitration hearing is unlikely. Contrary to reports, union chief Billy Hunter and commissioner David Stern have not met to discuss a deal.
Mavericks general manager Don Nelson continues to demonstrate his family values. Through Sunday, Nelson was 1-15 since replacing Jim Cleamons as coach, but he says he'll hold the position through the 1999-2000 season. Then he'll turn the reins over to his son, Donnie, whom he hired away from the Suns in December. Last week Nelson also revealed that he has a 29-year-old daughter he only recently learned about, a development he called "kind of neat." Wonder if he'll save her a spot on his coaching staff.
Once again, the Sonics are atop the Pacific Division (and an NBA-best 26-6 through Sunday). But unlike last season, when an unhappy Shawn Kemp kept his team in turmoil, these Sonics get along famously. Says coach George Karl, "Sam [Perkins] said I should give half my salary back because I don't have to deal with any negative energy."
The Celtics surpassed their victory total for 1996-97 with win number 16 last Saturday. Second-year forward Antoine Walker is putting up monster numbers (22.2 points, 10.4 rebounds), but will Boston sign Walker to an extension this summer? Maybe not. Sources say that Walker chafes at coach Rick Pitino's need for control, which allows for little input from his burgeoning star.