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Friday, November 16, 2007
Wade says Shaq must step up, lead Heat out of tailspin

ESPN.com news services

The Miami Heat and larger-than-life center Shaquille O'Neal are stuggling at 1-7.

Coach Pat Riley is looking for answers, blaming himself and suggesting "massive lineup changes" are afoot if things don't turn around.

Newspaper columnists in South Florida are calling for Shaq to be taken out of the starting lineup, to send a message to the Big Aristotle and the rest of the team.

But the Heat's best player, Dwyane Wade, says the key to getting Shaq and the Heat back on track is for O'Neal to get back the eye of the tiger.

"Probably this year more so than any year I have been more vocal with Shaq, talking to him and trying to motivate him," Wade told reporters on Thursday. "But the main thing is Shaq has got to be self-motivated. He has got to be willing and ready to do it."

O'Neal's numbers are down and he has struggled with foul trouble as the Heat stumbled out of the gate. In the first half of Miami's loss to the previously winless Seattle SuperSonics, he played just four minutes due to foul trouble and scattered boos from the home crowd serenaded him to the bench. He finished with 10 points, three boards and three turnovers in 16 minutes in the loss.

"Even though he is not getting the ball as much as he wants, we need him to help lead this team in other ways, whether it's rebounding the ball or passing the ball the way he knows how to pass," Wade told reporters. "He's our leader, [along] with myself. When you hear about the Miami Heat, it's Shaq and D-Wade. A lot is on us to lead the team and we have got to find a way to do it."

For his part, Riley said he's "as culpable as anyone else" for the team's slow start. But he's not laying all the blame at Shaq's feet.

"I don't want to embarrass anybody, and I have never done that with guys who are in the rotation and are key producers and have been around," Riley told reporters. "I just have too much compassion for them because I know they are going to have their ups and downs and there is a lot of pressure for them to perform. I understand.

"There is only one factor that will make me change that. I will give you the benefit of the doubt as long as we are winning. That's cool. But if the results are that there are continued losses, then it can't be tolerated."

O'Neal, 35, is averaging 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game -- well below his career averages of 25.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. He's coming off his least-productive season statistically, one in which he was hampered by injuries, and he is dealing with the upheaval of a divorce.

The Heat started the season without Wade, who returned to the lineup in the Seattle game and could start against the undefeated Celtics on Friday night. They're averaging just 84.8 points per game -- dead last in the NBA -- and ESPN.com's John Hollinger has them 25th out of 30 NBA teams in his power rankings.