Maybe Shaquille O’Neal knew what he was talking about when he proclaimed that the Heat would win a championship in his first season in Miami. Maybe he also was the only one who knew just how good Dwyane Wade could be.
Though they’re still several months away from even challenging for a title, there’s no denying that the Heat are the hottest team in the NBA entering their New Year’s Day matchup with the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
O’Neal, who made his guarantee during a parade in his honor following the blockbuster deal that brought him to Miami from the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers last summer, has helped the Heat to a franchise-record 13-game winning streak.
The 7-foot-1 center hasn’t had to do it alone either, as evidenced in Thursday’s 89-78 victory over the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons. Wade, a second-year guard, had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his first career triple-double, and O’Neal added 21 points despite a sore back and ribs as the Heat continued the longest win streak in the league this season.
“He’s the best second-year pupil that I’ve had,” O’Neal said, perhaps taking a veiled shot at former Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant. “I’ve raised two great ones in my NBA lifetime and this guy is the best in his second year.”
Miami, which last lost on Dec. 4, won 14 games in a month for the first time.
“I can appreciate it, but I can’t enjoy it because we play again Saturday,” Miami coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Miami boasts the best record in the Eastern Conference, and trails only Phoenix (25-4), Seattle (22-6) and San Antonio (24-6) for the best overall winning percentage in the league.
After taking on the Bobcats, the Heat will get a stiff test from the visiting SuperSonics on Monday before closing out a three-game homestand against the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
They will meet both the Suns and Sonics during an ensuing five-game West Coast trip that should further indicate where they stand in the NBA hierarchy.
The Bobcats got another double-double from Emeka Okafor on Friday, but the rookie sensation’s career-high 27 points and 10 rebounds weren’t enough in a 103-97 loss to Seattle.
Okafor, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, has 18 consecutive double-doubles.
The Bobcats welcomed back guard Brevin Knight and center Primoz Brezec after both missed games with the flu as Charlotte dropped three straight. Both gave the Bobcats an immediate lift, Knight with 15 assists before he fouled out late in the fourth quarter, and Brezec with 22 points and nine rebounds.
The Bobcats challenged the Sonics, but in the end, Seattle was simply the better team as Charlotte lost its fourth straight.
This is the first-ever meeting between the teams.