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The Lakers floundered for most of the 1990s after Magic Johnson retired, but with the pairing of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, it was only a matter of time before the league’s most glamorous franchise made it back to the top.
O’Neal was a new man in 1999-2000, as he was completely healthy for the first time since the 1994-95 season, having put a series of thumb, knee and abdominal injuries behind him. His new coach, Phil Jackson, brought the renowned triangle offense to Los Angeles and made O’Neal the focal point. With all this in his favor, Shaq set out to make the NBA his league.
Bryant, an All-Star, made great strides in his fourth season, posting career-highs in scoring (22.5 ppg), rebounds (6.3 rpg), assists (4.9 apg), steals (1.6 spg) and shooting percentage (46.8). He also earned a spot on the All-Defensive First Team.
L.A. dominated throughout the regular season, finishing 67-15 and reeling off a 19-game win streak in February and March. The Portland Trail Blazers came back with a fury this season, not letting a sweep in the 1999 West finals linger in their minds. Powered by Rasheed Wallace and newly acquired forward Scottie Pippen, the Blazers were the second-best team in the league at 59-23.
O’Neal was the force nobody wanted to reckon with. He led the league in scoring (29.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (.574). On March 6, his 28th birthday, Shaq celebrated with 61 points against the Clippers. He also led the Lakers on winning streaks of 19, 16 and 11 games.
He shared All-Star MVP honors with Tim Duncan and nearly became the first unanimous MVP of the regular season, receiving 120 of a possible 121 first-place votes.
Once the playoffs began, there was some heartbreak to be found. In the first round, the eighth-seeded Kings missed their chance to upset the No. 1 seed Lakers in the by losing Game 5. In the East semifinals, the seventh-seeded Knicks upset the No. 2-seeded Heat, ending a Miami playoff run early once again.
The West finals pitted L.A. against Portland and winning the series proved to be no easy task for the Lakers. They had to overcome a 15-point deficit to the Blazers in the fourth quarter of Game 7 in one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history, punctuated by a famous last-minute alley-oop play from Bryant to O’Neal that clinched the win.
In The Finals, the Lakers faced the Pacers, who were making the franchise’s first Finals appearance. L.A. dispatched Indy in six games, winning its first title since 1988, with Shaq taking Finals MVP honors.
Eastern Conference first round
Indiana defeated Milwaukee (3-2)
Miami defeated Detroit (3-0)
New York defeated Toronto (3-0)
Philadelphia defeated Charlotte (3-1)
Western Conference first round
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Sacramento (3-2)
Phoenix defeated San Antonio (3-1)
Portland defeated Minnesota (3-1)
Utah defeated Seattle (3-2)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Indiana defeated Philadelphia (4-2)
New York defeated Miami (4-3)
Western Conference semifinals
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Phoenix (4-1)
Portland defeated Utah (4-1)
Eastern Conference finals
Indiana defeated New York (4-2)
Western Conference finals
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Portland (4-3)
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Indiana (4-2)
Points — Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers (29.7)
Assists — Jason Kidd, Phoenix Suns (10.1)
Rebounds — Dikembe Mutombo, Atlanta Hawks (14.1)
Steals — Eddie Jones, Charlotte Hornets (2.7)
Blocks — Alonzo Mourning, Miami Heat (3.7)
FG % — Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers (57.4)
FT % — Jeff Hornacek, Utah Jazz (95.0)
3PT % — Hubert Davis, Dallas Mavericks (49.1)
Most Valuable Player — Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
Rookie of the Year — Elton Brand, Chicago Bulls & Steve Francis, Houston Rockets
Defensive Player of the Year — Alonzo Mourning, Miami Heat
Most Improved Player — Jalen Rose, Indiana Pacers
Sixth Man of the Year — Rodney Rogers, Phoenix Suns
Coach of the Year — Doc Rivers, Orlando Magic
All-Star Game MVP — Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers & Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
NBA Finals MVP — Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers