Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan waged many memorable battles for supremacy in the Western Conference over the better part of the last decade, winning six conference championships and five NBA titles between them.
With O’Neal back in the East leading the Miami Heat, and Duncan still in San Antonio, trying to help the Spurs back to the top of the West, the two will get their first look at one another this season when Miami visits the SBC Center.
Duncan led the Spurs to NBA titles in the lockout-shortened 1999 season and again in 2002-03. O’Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers rolled to three straight titles in between before losing in last year’s finals to the Detroit Pistons. In all but one of those six seasons, the two big men locked horns in the playoffs, with Los Angeles emerging victorious three times.
The defeat in last year’s finals, coupled with O’Neal’s ongoing feud with Laker management and fellow superstar Kobe Bryant, spelled the end of the dominant center’s days in Los Angeles. He was sent to Miami in the blockbuster deal that reshaped the power structure in both conferences.
It hasn’t taken long for O’Neal to establish his presence in the East.
He scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Thursday, becoming just the 20th player in NBA history to reach 22,000 points, but the Heat were unable to extend their season-opening winning streak to five as they dropped a 113-93 decision to the Dallas Mavericks.
O’Neal, who spent the first four seasons of his career in the East with Orlando, has already gained Miami status as a conference title contender. The Heat, who made a surprise run to the playoffs last season, lead the newly formed Southeast Division.
Duncan has the Spurs off to a 3-1 start, including Wednesday’s 91-71 rout of Golden State. The All-NBA power forward had 23 points and 18 rebounds as the Spurs rebounded from their first loss of the season, a 113-94 setback at Seattle on Sunday.
“I thought we executed a lot better,” Duncan said. “Defensively we were solid. We came out in the first half aggressively and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Duncan has monitored O’Neal’s progress in Miami.
“They have been playing well, and as expected Shaquille and Dwyane (Wade) have really gotten off to good starts,” Duncan said. “They are similar to us in that they are a defensive minded team.”
O’Neal and Duncan will meet again on Feb. 13 in Miami. The only way they can have another memorable postseason encounter is if they meet in the NBA Finals for the first time.
In the meantime, they’ll have to settle for two regular season meetings per year.