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Rival centers and the Lakers title run

March 7, 2011 |  8:00 am

Shaqbynum Anyone looking ahead to a Lakers-Celtics rubber match in June should know that Shaquille O’Neal turned 39 on Sunday.

Yes, Shaq, is the NBA’s oldest player. When Celtics GM Danny Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder he also rolled the dice on Shaq standing up throughout the playoffs.

Granted, there are no back-to-backs scheduled in the playoffs, but it’s still a long slog to a title. Last spring the Lakers needed 23 playoff contests to win it, and they played 23 games in 2009. Other recent title runs: the Celtics’ 26 games in 2008, the Spurs’ 20 in 2007, and the Heat’s 21 in 2006.

Of the eight plausible title contenders, only the Heat lacks a meaningful center. For the other seven teams, most rely on centers who have carry medical concerns.

Let’s start with the Bulls: Joakim Noah, in his fourth season, looked like an All-Star till he went down and missed 30 games for thumb surgery. Last season he sat out 18 games.

Celtics: For the Shamrock’s, Shaq has laced them up for 36 games and missed 25 — and counting — with knee, hip and Achilles woes. This season Shaq’s PR for consecutive games played is 16.

Lakers: Andrew Bynum at 23 is the youngest of this group. He played in all 23 playoff games last spring, though mostly on one leg. He played limited minutes in their 2009 title run, and missed 21 playoff games in 2008.

Magic: Dwight Howard is Superman, missing three games in seven seasons.

Mavericks: Tyson Chandler, 28, has anchored the paint for Dallas and missed but three of their first 57 games. Now, he’s sat out the last two with a sprained right ankle. Chandler knows downtime: missing 31 games for Charlotte last season, and 36 games for New Orleans in 2008-09.

Spurs: Tim Duncan reaches the NBA’s antique threshold when he turns 35 in April. Wise Gregg Popovich has reduced Duncan’s court time to a career-low 29 minutes.

Thunder: Perkins has yet to play for OKC. He missed 43 games for Boston after reconstructive right knee surgery, then played 12 games and averaged 8.1 boards, bruised his left knee two weeks ago and was traded.

My wager is the last team standing in June is the one with a starting center still able to power up and down the court on two healthy legs.

--Barry Stavro

Photo: Shaquille O’Neal fouls Andrew Bynum in the Lakers-Celtics game at Staples Center in January. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times


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