Shaq and Heat start quest for title against Grizzlies
(Sports Network) – Shaquille O’Neal and the Miami Heat have their sights set
on the NBA title this season, as they begin their campaign against the Memphis
Grizzlies at FedExForum.
O’Neal’s first year as a member of the Heat had to be considered a success.
The team came within one game of advancing to the NBA Finals, as they fell at
home in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Detroit Pistons.
The Heat, who were the top seed in the East heading into last year’s
postseason after winning 59 games during the regular season, earned their
first two sweeps in franchise history in a best-of-seven series during rounds
one and two of the 2005 playoffs. They eliminated No. 8 New Jersey in the
quarterfinals and No. 5 Washington in the semifinals.
In the conference finals, Miami gave Detroit a big scare as it led the Pistons
3-2 in the best-of-seven series. However, the experience of the Pistons showed
when they won Game 6 at The Place of Auburn Hills and dismissed the Heat in
front of their home crowd in Game 7. All-Star Dwyane Wade gave it his best
shot while playing the decisive contest with bruised ribs, but it was not
enough to get the Heat into their first NBA Finals in franchise history.
Shaq averaged 22.9 points, a team-best 10.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while
shooting a league-best 60 percent in his inaugural campaign with the Heat. He
found a comparable swingman to Kobe Bryant in Wade, who is entering his third
NBA season. Wade is a dual threat as he is equally capable of beating his
defender off the dribble and hitting mid-range jumpers. In 77 contests in
2004-05, Wade registered team-highs in points (24.1 ppg) and assists (6.8
Despite their success last season, the Heat are going to have a new look for
the 2005-06 campaign. Miami was very active in the offseason, as it acquired
28-year-old swingman James Posey, forward Antoine Walker and point guard Jason
Williams in a blockbuster five-team trade. The team also signed free agent
point guard Gary Payton and forward Jason Kapono, who was a restricted free
agent and had averaged 8.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in 81 games last season for
the Charlotte Bobcats.
Gone are forward Rasual Butler and swingman Eddie Jones, as they were both
part of the five- team trade. Damon Jones also signed with Cleveland as a free
agent, while reserve guard Keyon Dooling inked a deal with Orlando.
The Heat made another big splash when they signed O’Neal to a new contract.
Although terms of the deal were not released, it is believed that Shaq inked a
five-year contract worth over $100 million.
Miami also re-signed power forward Udonis Haslem, who averaged 10.9 points and
9.1 rebounds in 80 games in 2004-05. Haslem received a five-year deal believed
to be worth $30.7 million. Haslem has been a pleasant surprise in his two
seasons with the Heat, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2003
following a standout career at the University of Florida.
Stan Van Gundy returns for his third year as the general of the Heat. He is a
good Xs and Os type of coach and is able to adjust his strategies when the
opposition puts in new wrinkles to account for the dominant inside play of
Shaq. Van Gundy is 17-11 in the postseason and will try and guide Miami to its
first-ever berth in the NBA Finals.
Memphis, meanwhile, is coming off its second straight trip to the postseason.
The Grizzlies, who won 45 games in the regular season, were swept
out of the first round of the playoffs for the second straight time.
President of basketball operations Jerry West, who inked a two-year extension
earlier in the week, was busy during the offseason. West traded away point
guard Jason Williams and swingmen James Posey and Bonzi Wells. He also allowed
power forward Stromile Swift and Earl Watson to leave through free agency.
Veteran point guard Damon Stoudamire was signed as a free agent, while guards
Bobby Jackson and Eddie Jones and were obtained in trades. Memphis also
drafted athletic forward Hakim Warrick, who played his college ball at
Syracuse, with the 19th overall pick.
The Grizzlies, who won a franchise record 50 games in 2003-04 and were
eliminated by San Antonio in 2004 and Phoenix during the 2005 playoffs,
started the 2004-05 campaign with four straight losses and were a
disappointing 5-11 prior to current head coach Mike Fratello’s first game on
the bench on December 3, 2004.
After the sudden retirement of former head coach Hubie Brown, who cited he no
longer had the desire or energy to keep coaching. The Grizzlies were lucky to
get Fratello, who is the seventh head coach in team history. Fratello, who had
been the general for the Atlanta Hawks for seven seasons and the Cleveland
Cavaliers for six, had a successful resume that included plenty of postseason
Forward Pau Gasol averaged a team-high 17.8 points in 56 games for the
Grizzlies, while Lorenzen Wright led the club with 7.8 boards per game. Guard
Mike Miller was second on the Grizzlies in scoring, as he averaged 13.4 points
These teams split their two matchups last season, but Memphis has won two of
the last three meetings. The Heat have also stropped three straight as the
visitor in this series.