After a solid performance on an injured leg in his Heat debut, Shaquille O’Neal will get to play in front of the home crowd when Miami hosts LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Acquired in a blockbuster deal from the Los Angeles Lakers this past offseason for three starters and a first-round draft pick, O’Neal was welcomed to Miami with a parade and expectations of helping the franchise compete for an NBA title.
He was far from dominant, but effective in his first game with the Heat on Wednesday in New Jersey. The eight-time All-Star, bothered by a strained left hamstring, had 16 points and five rebounds as Miami opened the season with a 100-77 win over the Nets.
“I was ordered to be 100 percent when I came back, but I haven’t been 100 percent in about 10 years,” said O’Neal, who entered the season averaging 27.1 points and 12.1 rebounds for his career.
Despite the injury, O’Neal proved to be a handful for Nets center Alonzo Mourning, who was playing less than a year after undergoing a kidney transplant.
“It was one-on-one coverage, and I don’t know anybody in this league that can guard him one-on-one,” Mourning said. “I don’t care if he has a pulled hamstring or he is slow—the man is big. He is a massive individual. If you don’t have the same weight and size to match that and you’re playing him one-on-one and get behind him, he is going to back you down, drop step and there’s not too much you can do about it.”
Six Miami players scored in double figures as the Heat shot 51 percent (37-for-73), including 8-of-16 from 3-point range. Second-year guard Dwayne Wade had a team-high 21 points, six assists and five rebounds.
“It went better than I thought it would go,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said, “but I’m not going to go crazy on the superlatives after one game.”
The Cavaliers dropped their season opener in a 109-104 double-overtime home decision to Indiana.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas tied a career high with 35 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, while James added 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds for Cleveland, which committed 14 turnovers while getting outscored 62-42 in the paint.
James felt like the Cavaliers let one slip away.
“We didn’t execute down the stretch,” he said. “We gave up a lot of easy buckets. Too many turnovers, too many missed shots. It was just a tough loss.”
The Heat are 21-9 all-time at home against the Cavaliers. The home team has also won each of last seven meetings in the series.
O’Neal has averaged 31.5 points on 59 percent (23-for-39) shooting in his last two meetings with the Cavaliers, including a 37-point performance in a 111-106 overtime road win on Feb. 4. He shot 14-for-21 and also had 12 rebounds and six assists in that victory for the Lakers.