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Dec 10, 2002 5:51 AM

   The NBA world was shaken last Friday night with a record setting performance by the three time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

   The champs had been struggling in the early season, even after Shaquille O’Neal returned to the lineup. In fact, entering Friday’s game against Dallas the Lakers were resting in last place in the Pacific Division. And resting was the operative word.

   The Lakers had shown little spark in the first quarter of their season, evidently believing they can just turn it on in the Playoffs following a grueling 82-game regular season. The Lakers proved their point by rallying from a 27-point deficit entering the fourth quarter. The Mavericks were 17-1 and in position to end a losing streak in Los Angeles that dated back more than a decade.

   Perhaps that rally was the wake up call the Lakers needed and the rest of league feared. Keep an eye on Shaq, Kobe Bryant and mates to see if that event did energize them. Maybe in less than a month, we’ll again see the Lakers at the top of the Division standings, or at least giving Sacramento a battle.

   Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

   Hornets at Lakers (Friday): The Hornets have adjusted well to their new home and stand 11-0 at New Orleans entering the week. But, they have been just average on the road. They began a road trip with a game in Utah on Thursday while the Lakers have been idle since Tuesday. New Orleans will miss Baron Davis in the matchup against Kobe Bryant, and Shaq should dominate. The situation greatly favors the host against one of the better teams from the East. LAKERS (-8).

   Celtics at Knicks (Saturday): Boston has won the first two meetings this season including 91-80 a week ago at home. The Knicks have played better of late but their lack of depth continues to be a problem late in games. Many times already this season New York has given up double digit second half leads in games ultimately lost. Lack of depth hurts New York here as both teams are off games the night before. Boston is traveling from home, while the Knicks are returning from Miami. CELTICS (-3).

   Nets at Pistons (Sunday): The two Eastern Conference division winners from last season square off in Motown. Both teams made significant changes since last season with Detroit acquiring Rip Hamilton in a trade that sent Jerry Stackhouse to Washington. The Nets acquired the now injured Dikembe Mutombo from Philadelphia for Keith Van Horn. New Jersey still has the most important player on the court, Jason Kidd. Both teams are capable of playing tight defense and that deliberate pace should be employed here. UNDER (179).