Denver -- which looked like a playoff outsider heading into the season -- needs to win at least 45 games to press San Antonio in the Western Conference. This is going to be an entirely new regular-season experience for the Spurs, let's put it that way. It will be interesting to see how they adapt.
Last week, folks in Chicago missed their only opportunity this season to see O'Neal play; he sat out the game at United Center on Nov. 7 to be fresh and available at Milwaukee on Nov. 8. Based on the Suns' scheduled back-to-backs, he could skip similar lone appearances in Toronto or Boston (January), Detroit or Philadelphia (February) and Orlando or Miami (March). There are 12 other situations in which he might sit out a road game against a Western foe, limiting his appearances to one or none in those cities, too. Shaq plans to play next season, so -- good health and scheduling permitted -- he likely will appear at least once more in each town. But losing a last chance to see him play, because he needs rest, would be as big a cheat as missing a final glimpse in person of Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, David Robinson or other greats. It's a compliment to Shaq that we say, in all earnestness: Sit your butt down at home games.
The NBA has changed around Sloan. It has become younger, richer, more talented athletically and less skilled. But he persists. His values have stood like a mast against the storms.
The interesting thing will be what happens to Sloan in the future. The Jazz are a title contender, and fair or not, some locals still grumble a bit about the old coach's inability to win it all. If Sloan were to be pushed out at some point and wind up finishing his career with another NBA team (he has never ruled it out), it would be like throwing paint on the Mona Lisa.