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Shaq's block preserves comeback win

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- After ensuring the Miami Heat's 10th
straight victory with one mighty swat, Shaquille O'Neal certainly
looked ready for the big homecoming.

Damon Jones hit a 3-pointer with 23.4 seconds left, and O'Neal
blocked Mike Bibby's layup attempt in the closing seconds of
Miami's 109-107 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday
night.

Jones' dramatic shot and O'Neal's defense capped an impressive
late rally in Miami's final warmup before Shaq's much-hyped return
to Los Angeles to face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Saturday.

"This is a tough place to get a win, so we feel good about how
the team is playing," said O'Neal, who had 25 points and 10
rebounds in a gritty victory over the Kings. "Every game means a
lot, but believe it or not, this one (in Los Angeles) will not be
one of my top 100 battles."

O'Neal gave Sacramento a chance to steal the win by missing two
free throws with 10.9 seconds left. But he made up for it in his
own inimitable style, blocking Bibby's ensuing drive to the hoop
with about two seconds to play.

Chris Webber's 3-pointer at the buzzer was well short, and Miami
extended its longest winning streak since late in the 1997-98
season.

The Heat also became just the third Eastern Conference team to
win in Sacramento in 53 games over the last four seasons -- not a
bad way to head into the most-anticipated regular-season game in
recent memory.

"We knew we had two tough games on this road trip, and we
didn't want to overlook this game going into Saturday's game,"
O'Neal said. "We kind of got off to a bad start, but we've been a
pretty good second-half team the last 13, 14 games. We just played
good team ball, just hung in there and played good defense."

Webber scored 26 points and Bibby had 21 points and eight
assists for the short-handed Kings, who nearly beat the East's best
team despite playing largely without three of their top six
players.

"We've had our share of games like this," Webber said. "I'm
tired of losing them. They've got a good team, but it still hurts
to lose like that."

Sixth man Bobby Jackson is sidelined with torn ligaments in his
wrist. The Kings also had to make do with limited contributions
from two starters: Brad Miller received a deep cut on his shin and
played sparingly, and Doug Christie was ejected in the third
quarter.

Sacramento led 101-89 with 5:23 to play, but Miami tied it on
Eddie Jones' free throw with 1:46 left. The Heat went ahead 106-104
on Damon Jones' free throws with 51.1 seconds left, but Peja
Stojakovic hit a difficult 3-pointer from in front of the Kings'
bench.

"Our guys played their tails off the whole game," Kings coach
Rick Adelman said. "I don't know how many shots we had, but they
were wide open from different people, and we couldn't get one to go
down. It was just a tough loss."

Dwyane Wade had 22 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the
Heat, but was limited in the second half by the defense of
Sacramento journeyman Maurice Evans, who also had season highs of
12 points and eight rebounds playing in Christie's place.

Damon Jones had 18 points and hit four 3-pointers, while Eddie
Jones finished with 21 points and three 3-pointers -- and O'Neal
provided one last dramatic flourish.

O'Neal remained silent during the day, refusing to speak to
reporters at the morning shootaround or in the locker room before
the game. He hopes his play speaks for itself back at Staples
Center, where he won three championships and bickered with Bryant
during his eight seasons with the Lakers.

Miller missed much of the first half after a collision with Wade
under the basket in the first quarter. Miller returned in the
second half after getting 15 stitches to close a gash down to the
bone on his right shin -- but he also spent most of the game in foul
trouble, playing just 20 minutes.

The Kings then lost Christie when he was ejected for his second
technical foul after a midcourt collision with Wade. Referee
Bennett Salvatore called T's on both players for jawing, but
Christie already had a technical from an earlier argument.

Game notes
Miami shot a better percentage than its opponent for the
16th straight game -- the first time that's been done since Boston
did it in 1992. ... After Miller was injured, he went to the locker
room to get a makeshift bandage on his shin so he could shoot his
free throws, then went back to get stitches. If he hadn't shot his
own free throws, he wouldn't have been allowed to return to the
game. ... The Kings were called for two lane violations on Miami
free throws. ... Webber scored 14 points in the first quarter on
7-of-9 shooting.

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