Updated: March 3, 2006, 11:45 AM ET

Shaq's on and off approach

There goes Ryan Gomes beating him up court. Raef LaFrentz is running ahead of him, no problem. Delonte West is shooting open shots. And Paul Pierce is driving unimpeded to the hoop.

Watching Shaquille O'Neal and the Miami Heat in Wednesday night's 103-96 win over the Boston Celtics, you see ample evidence of the big man sticking to a belief that he can turn it on and off, and peak at the end of the season.

Even as a Celtics team is sprinting past him.

"I always break the season down into four parts, and this is the third part for me," Shaq was quoted as saying in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "so I'm just trying to pick it up a little bit and in the next 20 games really pick it up and have a different sense of urgency before we go into the playoffs. It's just me getting into my flow, into my rhythm."

Um, Shaq, I don't know if this is going to work.

What Shaq is telling me with this, is "we'll do just enough to win the game."

Well, what if you don't win?

Shaq's older now, and his experience tells him what lies ahead, and he must conserve his energy. But the downside of his experience is that it's easy to talk yourself into shortchanging your approach.

You can't control winning and losing. But you can control effort.

At some point, you've got to show up and play ball. I believe that defensive play is the one thing that carries over from the regular season to the playoffs. Offense? You miss your shots and you're out.

Another problem: The Heat don't seem to have the urgency to achieve as a team that hasn't won a championship should. When we won our first title with Chicago in 1991, we as a group knew that we were only as good as our last effort.

Effort or no effort, this is a subpar Miami defensive team at best.

I see some glaring weaknesses: Their inability to defend on the perimeter against dribble penetration; perimeter shooting is average; and they have difficulty defending the power forward position. Antoine Walker and Udonis Haslem are undersized at that position, especially when you consider they could potentially be matching up with Rasheed Wallace or Tim Duncan.

Make no mistake, the Heat certainly have a chance. They have the right coach. They have the roster capable of beating the Pistons. With Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning and Walker coming off the bench, that gives them a solid eight-man rotation. We saw Shandon Anderson giving them good offense against the Celtics. And of course, there's Dwyane Wade.

It all returns to the question of turning it on and off. You could count on Shaq in his prime to be going full out for about 79 out of 82 games. Now he's Shaq only about half the time.

Shaq had 16 points and nine boards in the win over Boston. Some of his numbers have improved as the year has gone on. For February, his 21.2 ppg average is up from January's 19.6 ppg.

I don't know about not giving maximum effort. Either the light is on, or the light is off -- no sense making a point about "off-ness." That's just a shadow in a world of illusion. Living in the illusion is comfortable. It is the truth that you really fear.

The truth is you've got to really work, every night.

So what does "off" look like?

If they're not careful, maybe it's the lights of Miami's home court, turned off earlier than hoped.

ESPN Analyst B.J. Armstrong, a career .425 3-point shooter, won three titles with the Bulls and played in the NBA from 1989-2000.

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Dimes Past: February 22 | 23 | 24 | 25-26 | 27 | 28 | March 1

All Over But The Shouting
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Pistons guard Richard Hamilton, left, and Nuggets newcomer Ruben Patterson are kept apart by official Scott Foster. A shouting match resulted in double technicals, and Detroit lost its 10th.

Not Flag Bearers

Bill Simmons' toughest omissions from U.S. team tryouts:

1. Kobe Bryant: Too much baggage, too much of a walking soap opera, spent too much time in a situation where he was the only viable scoring option. Even in something as dumb as the All-Star Game last month, you could see his rust in terms of playing team basketball; these last two Shaq-less seasons have been more damaging to him than anyone wants to admit. Plus, if he's on the team, you have to play him. And I don't think you need him -- not when you have Wade, Redd, LeBron and Pierce.

And then there's this: I don't care what transpired recently -- there's no way Shaq plays on this team if Kobe gets picked. I think he makes one of those behind-closed-doors, him-or-me threats like MJ did before the '92 Olympics (when he told them that he wouldn't play if Isiah was on the team). Personally, I'd rather have Shaq and Pierce than Stoudemire and Kobe. But given that this is USA Basketball, I'm sure we'll end up with the latter two guys. Fantastic.

2. JJ Redick: A potential monster with the shorter 3-point line. Playing for any other country, he'd be the proverbial gunner that nobody could stop, right? Imagine him as J.J. Redickovich dropping nine 3s on us for Croatia & yikes. I'm willing to reconsider this pick as we get a little closer. Not a bad option as the Token White Guy.

3. Amare Stoudemire: Only because he's such a force of nature. But I don't think you need him and Shaq. And he's a little too me-first for me. And what about the knee?

4. Kirk Hinrich: Whoops, they didn't invite him and tabbed Ridnour instead. Bizarre. And while we're here, if Ridnour ends up taking Chris Paul's spot for TWG purposes, that would be depressing on a number of levels. I'm going to keep writing about this once a month, just to be safe. We can't let this happen. Chris Paul is too important of a player -- we need more like him.

5. Ron Artest: Obviously the best defensive stopper in the league . . . unfortunately, he's also the best bet to cause World War 3. Too bad.

See the complete Bill Simmons column

NBA Intelligence Report

McGrady: Iverson Deserved Invitation
For purposes of full disclosure, Tracy McGrady readily acknowledges that Allen Iverson is "a real good friend." He readily acknowledges "there is some bias" in his opinion. But ... The Houston Rockets star firmly believes that Iverson, the 76ers' star guard, should at least be included in the group trying out for the U.S. National Team, from which the nation's 2008 Olympic team will be selected. ... "I feel it's a lack of respect," said McGrady, who also was not invited. "Of all the guys who didn't go the last time, he chose to go. He was the true veteran who did everything. I just think it's only right to invite him back." -- Philadelphia Daily News

Snub Upsets Davis, Richardson
Warriors point guard Baron Davis said he was "shocked" and "appalled" when he heard he was not among the 22 players invited to USA Basketball's training camp in Las Vegas in July. "I'm offended," Davis said. Some of the players invited to the training camp have a few of the Warriors players scratching their heads, especially Davis and Warriors guard Jason Richardson. ... "For Baron, yeah (I'm surprised)," Richardson said. "For me, I'm not surprised because I never get included in anything. I'm not even considered an All-Star." -- Contra Costa Times

Read the entire Intelligence Report on Insider Insider

Motion: Who's The King?
The Kings don't want to be counted out of the race. The Cavs just lost their fifth straight.

Kings Top King

View Of A Patriot

AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Heat coach Pat Riley doesn't like a call late in the fourth. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, left, not wearing his usual sweatshirt, saw the Heat's 103-96 win over the C's.

Extreme Behavior

Wednesday's Best
Kenyon Martin, Nuggets forward: He's only in the league leaders in the tech foul category, but his 28 points and 12 rebounds, along with the Cambyman's 20 boards and five swats, punctuated a win over the Pistons, 98-87.


Wednesday's Worst
Mehmet Okur, Jazz forward: For someone close to being a 20-10 guy, rolling out six points and six boards in a loss to lowly Charlotte is not right. Memo to Memo: Your Jazz need wins like this if you hope to earn a playoff berth.


Quote of the Day
"Like I told [Jerry] Colangelo, I'm going to be playing anyway if you don't pick me. I'm training all year 'round anyway, so it doesn't affect me."
-- Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, reacting to news of his selection for the US team trials

-- Andrew Ayres

See how all 218 who played stacked up

Some National Attention

Q: What's your best guess at the 12-man roster for Japan?

A: Gilbert Arenas, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Bruce Bowen, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, Chris Bosh and Brad Miller.

Some explanations: Bowen guards Ginobili in Spurs practice every day, so he would be the perfect guy to stick on Manu in the gold-medal game. Paul makes it for his quickness and ballhandling. Arenas brings shooting and ballhandling. Miller, Bosh and Brand are needed for their size and versatility. Pierce is needed for his shooting.

Q: What weaknesses might the U.S. team have?

A: There's only one true center, Brad Miller, and he does not have a back-to-the-basket offensive game. There are no shot-blockers other than Brand. And the lack of depth at point guard could be an issue.

But the No. 1 problem for the Americans in Athens was a lack of shooters (every opponent except Argentina played a tight 2-3 zone against the U.S.), and that seems to have been solved with Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Michael Redd (not available in 2006), Gilbert Arenas, Joe Johnson and LBJ on board.

See the full Chris Sheridan story Insider

Elias Says

Chris Paul had 25 points and 14 assists in the Hornets' loss at Seattle. Paul averaged 17.2 points per game and 9.5 assists per game in February. He's the first NBA rookie to average 17-plus points and 9-plus assists in a calendar month since Toronto's Damon Stoudamire (20.5 points per game and 10.1 assists per game) in March 1996. (Minimum: 10 games played in the month.)

• Elias Sports Bureau | More Elias Insider

Sonic Candidate For U.S.

Sean (Los Angeles): I love the pick of Rashard Lewis. It seems like he creates one of the biggest mismatches w/ other countries, as most don't have his size/touch. Is he a lock?

Chris Sheridan: I don't see him as a lock, but rather an a very interesting bubble guy. I'd disagree with the statement that other teams don't have players with his combination of size and touch. That's exactly what the other teams' big men have. The quality that Lewis possesses to set himself apart is athleticism.

Tom (Chicago): I credit them for naming Bruce Bowen to the team. He's exactly what they need and he has some insight as to how to stop Manu Ginobili.

Chris Sheridan: Frankly, that's why he's on the list. There are a lot of players in the NBA who consider Bowen a dirty player, and some of them are on this roster, too. But even if Bowen can lock down Manu, the other four players have to defend as a unit. In Athens, the Argentines back-picked the Americans to pieces and broke the game open with layup after layup in the semifinals.

See the full Chris Sheridan chat Insider



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