MIAMI (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal was banged up and sore, but still
made his presence felt in a big way.
O'Neal scored 31 points despite playing with a sore back and
ribs, and Dwyane Wade added 27 as the Miami Heat set a franchise
record with their 12th straight win, a 116-102 victory over the
Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
The Heat, playing for the first time since their much-hyped
Christmas Day overtime win against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers,
eclipsed their mark for consecutive wins set in 1997. Miami also
set a franchise mark for home attendance with 20,291.
O'Neal wore a sleeveless T-shirt and padding underneath his
jersey. He said he felt sore after the game against the Lakers, but
can't recall a specific play when the injury took place.
"My back was sore. The flak jacket felt good, so I plan to wear
it the rest of my career," O'Neal said.
It didn't appear there was anything wrong with him. O'Neal made
10 of 14 shots from the floor, getting started with a pair of dunks
in the opening minutes. He was uncharacteristically effective at
the foul line, making 11 of 14 attempts in his 32 minutes.
"I wanted to come out aggressive and take my mind off my sore
back," O'Neal said.
Wade, who sparked Miami's win against the Lakers with 29 points,
followed that up with another solid performance, adding three
rebounds and nine assists.
After getting two close wins on the road against the Kings and
Lakers to complete a 2-0 trip, the Heat survived a scare from the
Hawks, who have the league's second-worst record.
"This win streak has shown us what we have as a team when we
win close games," Wade said. "We've been doing it in the big
stages and it proves where this team is headed."
The game turned in Miami's favor toward the end of the third
quarter. Trailing 78-72, the Heat ran off 13 straight points and
closed the period with a 16-2 spurt to grab an 88-80 lead. Wade
triggered the surge with three assists and seven points.
Walker hit a pair of free throws for the Hawks to cut the gap to
106-100 with 2:29 left. But Christian Laettner hit two free throws
and then converted a three-point play to extend Miami's lead to
111-100 with 1:41 to go.
"Twelve wins in a row is incredible," Miami's Eddie Jones
said. "It's a confidence booster. We believe when things aren't
going great that we can come back."
The Hawks put together a strong second quarter, led by newly
acquired Tyronn Lue's nine points, and led 56-55 at halftime.
In the end, though, it was too much of O'Neal and Wade, who
combined for 58 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
"They're an awesome team," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
"When you get off to a start like they have, they know that
they're playing for a title. They have a legitimate shot of coming
out of the East and getting to the Finals. They're a team that's
playing with a purpose right now."
O'Neal started strong, with a pair of dunks in the opening
minutes. A woeful 44 percent shooter from the foul line this
season, O'Neal easily had his best night at the stripe.
"Maybe he should wear that brace all the time," said Hawks
center Jason Collier, who drew the assignment of guarding O'Neal.
"The way he was hitting his free throws, it was a good night for
Lue, acquired in a trade on Dec. 23, made his debut for the
Hawks and finished with 13 points in 19 minutes. ... The Heat's
previous 11-game winning streak was Jan. 27-Feb. 20, 1997. ...
Miami has won five straight against the Hawks. ... Atlanta's Jason
Collier missed much of the second and third quarters after taking a
shot to the jaw from O'Neal ... The Heat improved to 18-0 when
scoring 100 or more points.
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