MIAMI (AP) -- Playing for the first time in five weeks, Shaquille
O'Neal came through in the clutch -- and at the free throw line, of
The NBA's most notoriously erratic foul shooter sank the second
of two tries with a second left in regulation to force overtime,
and the Miami Heat ended a four-game losing streak by beating
Washington 104-101 Sunday night.
Coming off the bench in his first action since a sprained right
ankle sidelined him Nov. 3, O'Neal looked rusty but finished with
10 points and 11 rebounds, four in overtime. He fouled out with
1:33 left after playing 23 minutes.
"I felt pretty good," O'Neal said. "I just wanted to get my
guys going -- bring some energy and spirit to the lineup."
Dwyane Wade scored a season-high 41 points, including the final
six for the Heat, and added 10 rebounds and eight assists. But it
was O'Neal who sank the shot that kept Miami in the game.
The Wizards led 95-94 with 7 seconds left in the fourth quarter,
but the Heat won a jump ball at their end. Wade passed inside to
O'Neal, who was immediately fouled.
Nervous, big guy?
"I don't get nervous in any situation," O'Neal said. "There's
no such thing as nerves when you're playing games."
His first attempt rimmed out, but after a Miami timeout, he
swished the second try.
"I knew I was going to make one," O'Neal said. "I wanted to
make two, but the first one rattled in and rattled right out."
O'Neal finished 6-for-16 at the line, not including two misses
negated by lane violations.
"I think we've proven we can play with anybody in the Eastern
Conference," Atkins said. "Now we have to learn how to win."
The Heat beat the Wizards for the ninth time in a row.
Washington's last win in the series came on April 11, 2003.
Gilbert Arenas, battling tightness in his groin, scored 24
points for Washington but missed 19 of 24 shots. The Wizards, who
blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead Saturday night to Chicago, lost
their third game in a row.
Miami's Gary Payton had 21 points and seven rebounds, both
Wade's basket with 2 minutes left in overtime put Miami ahead to
stay, 100-98. He topped 30 for the third game in a row.
"With Dwyane, you almost have to have three defenders,"
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said.
The game was billed as a tribute to the '70s, with both teams in
throwback uniforms. The Heat wore black, pink and orange outfits
styled after the Miami Floridians of the ABA, while Washington wore
Baltimore Bullets-style uniforms.
Reviews of the apparel were mixed, but some of the basketball
was unsightly. Washington shot 39 percent and still led for much of
the game. When Atkins scored 11 points in a 3-minute span to help
the Wizards take a 46-38 lead, there were scattered boos from the
O'Neal entered with 5:55 left in the first quarter to an
enthusiastic but brief ovation. He scored his first point less than
2 minutes later, making one of two free throws. His first field
goal, late in the third quarter, put Miami ahead 66-60.
The Heat went 9-9 during the five weeks O'Neal was sidelined.
They're 2-1 with him.
"Words can't express how good it is to see him back out
there," teammate Alonzo Mourning said. "I know how frustrating it
was for him to be out."
The Heat improved to 7-0 at home when leading after one
quarter. ... O'Neal came off the bench for the first time since
Nov. 22, 2002, for the Los Angeles Lakers against Chicago. ... Heat
coach Stan Van Gundy said transition defense has been his biggest
disappointment through the first 20 games. ... The Wizards had won
their previous two overtime games.
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