Thursday , Nov , 11 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Shaq, Wade have turned up the heat in Miami

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Miami is off to its best start in
franchise history. The Heat won their first four games of the 2004-05
campaign, with three of their victories by 10 points or more.

The Heat, who played their first season in the NBA in the 1988-89 campaign,
made their biggest trade in franchise history during the offseason when they
acquired All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers in
exchange for forwards Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler and a first-round
draft pick.

The 32-year-old O’Neal, who has battled a sore hamstring to start the season,
has fit in well with Miami, which has managed to defeat New Jersey, Cleveland
and Washington twice so far this season. The 7-1 center has played just 27
minutes per game in his first four contests in a Heat uniform, but he has
averaged 16.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

“This is a good start for us,” said O’Neal. “We are playing good team ball. We
want to rely 30 percent on offense, and 70 percent on defense. Last few games
we have been iffy, and our offense has been carrying us. We have players who
are very unselfish, and players who are shooting the ball well. But we need to
take it one game at a time, and get better every game.”

Shaq’s new partner is second-year phenom Dwyane Wade. The 22-year-old guard
has been spectacular for the Heat so far, as he leads the team in scoring
(27.8 ppg) and assists (8.0 apg). The Marquette product, as expected, has
benefited most from the addition of O’Neal.

Wade is very athletic and is able to take advantage of the space that Shaq
creates. With most of the attention on O’Neal on the offensive end of the
court, Wade is able to take advantage of one-on-one situations as his
quickness is proving to be very difficult for defenders to deal with.
However, Miami’s starting point guard also excels defensively, as he is
averaging a team-best 1.75 steals per game.

“Shaq [O’Neal] gives you confidence at both ends of the floor,” said Wade. “We
(the Heat) know defense wins ballgames, and we have a long way to go, still.
But it is our defense that has helped win ballgames early.”

After knocking of the Nets and Cavaliers in the first two games of the 2004-05
campaign, Miami swept a home-and-home set from Antawn Jamison and the
Wizards. In the first game against Washington, Miami took home 118-106 win at
the MCI Center. The Heat held on for 103-93 win at AmericanAirlines Arena in
the second contest versus the Wizards.

In the 10-point win over the Wizards, the Heat got their usual production from
O’Neal, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Wade, who netted 22
and dished out nine assists. Starting power forward Udonis Haslem stepped up
and scored 18 to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds. Miami’s starting
shooting guard Eddie Jones contributed eight points, six boards and two
steals.

“It’s a team effort,” said Jones after the 10-point victory over the Wizards”
“That’s when it’s great, when you have everybody contributing. We just need to
learn how to close the game. I don’t think we have closed a game good yet.”

Haslem and Jones look to be an excellent supporting cast to Wade and O’Neal.
The 24-year-old Haslem leads the Heat in rebounding (8.8 rpg) and has netted
13.5 points per game after four games, while the veteran Jones, who is 33, has
averaged 11.5 points and 3.8 assists.

The Heat, who have scored at least 100 points in three of their four wins to
start the season, have shown that they can win in a fast-paced tempo or in a
halfcourt setting.

“People assumed we (the Heat) wouldn’t run because Shaq is here, but we
haven’t changed our style,” said Haslem. “If we can’t get anything running
we’ll slow it down and get it into the Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal).”

Starting small forward Rasual Butler and reserve guard Damon Jones have also
played well for the Heat in the first four games of the season. Twenty-five-
year-old Rasual Butler has averaged 10.8 points and three boards, while Jones
has contributed 9.8 points and 3.8 assists off the bench.

The addition of Shaq is paying early dividends. Miami’s opponents key on
avoiding O’Neal on the defensive end of the court and stopping him on the
offense side, which has allowed his teammates to shine.

“When I get the ball, the other team is going to have to do one of two
things,” said O’Neal. “Either come double, or watch and see what I do.”

With O’Neal and Wade, it is a different type of game when the other teams in
the NBA have to face the Heat. If Miami’s opponent’s concentrate too much on
stopping Shaq, Wade will surely burn them. And if the Heat’s opposition
forgets about everyone, except O’Neal and Wade, Miami has players that are
very happy to show that they can play as well.

If Shaq and Wade can stay healthy, the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers
better watch out!