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WAR OF WORDS FOR SHAQ, WORM

Shaquille O'Neal will leave the Orlando Magic after this season, Dennis Rodman predicts, and he'll leave as a loser.

If Rodman isn't careful, O'Neal says, he'll leave Monday's game on a stretcher.The war of words between Shaq and the Worm - which began when O'Neal called Rodman "a gimmick" early in the Eastern Conference finals - has been far more entertaining than the competition between their teams.

They were at it again Sunday, a day before Rodman's Chicago Bulls will try to complete a four-game sweep of O'Neal's overmatched Magic.

"Shaquille won't be here next year. He'll be in L.A. for sure," Rodman said. "There are a lot more opportunities out there. You've got movies, records, endorsements."

O'Neal, he said, is more worried about making rap music than making free throws.

"Shaquille needs to learn that can't get by dunking the basketball," Rodman said. "You've got to have the whole total package."

O'Neal, a free agent after this season who has said he expects to stay in Orlando, respects Rodman even less than the Worm respects him.

When asked last week about Rodman, who dyes his hair and has numerous pierced body parts, O'Neal said: "He's a gimmick. He'll never be on my level - on or off the court."

Though Shaq is averaging 27 points this series, he has disappeared exactly when his team has needed him. The Worm, meanwhile, has dominated the boards. And Rodman, a skinny 6-foot-8 forward, has even had success guarding the 7-1, 320-pound O'Neal down low.

"I'm under his skin, man," Rodman said. "He's just frustrated."

Said O'Neal: "If he had gotten under my skin, I would have been throwing some punches. He's kind of chippy, jumping around, and I just have to watch out for him. When I get frustrated, I start swinging."

Rodman seemed more amused than worried about O'Neal's statement.

"If he throws punches, he throws punches," Rodman said. "I don't care."

In Saturday's second quarter, they both went for a rebound and Rodman fouled O'Neal. As O'Neal fell, he pulled down Rodman. O'Neal was called for a technical foul. It was one of several scraps between Shaq and the Worm.

"He hit me a couple of times in the face but I don't care," Rodman said. "I looked him in the eye and said, `Hey, you've got to bring more than that, bro, to bring me down.' "

Rodman helped Detroit win NBA titles in 1989 and 1990, and he expects to get another championship with the Bulls this season. O'Neal is a good player, Rodman said, but he couldn't keep the Magic from getting swept by Houston in the 1995 NBA Finals and can't even take them that far this year.

"In the end, they came up a loser," Rodman said. "You have to have a lot of heart, emotion and wit to win. They have the ability to be a champion but they don't know what it takes to be a champion."

The Worm's parting shot to Shaq: "If you can't back it up, don't even open your mouth."