Miami (27-9) at Phoenix (30-4)

Fair Currently: Phoenix, AZ
Temp: 67° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Tue Jan 11, 2005
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Heading into this season, many believed the Miami Heat had a good chance to lead the Eastern Conference. No one thought the Phoenix Suns would be atop the West.

It will be a matchup of conference leaders when the Suns, winners of six straight, try to hand the Heat a second consecutive loss on their western road swing.

With the addition of Shaquille O’Neal and emergence of second-year guard Dwyane Wade, Miami was expected to challenge for the East title this season.

The offseason acquisitions of Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson joining Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion were supposed to make the Suns better, but nobody could have expected them to be this good.

At 30-4, Phoenix is off to the best start in team history—and one of the best in league history. The Suns, whose lead in the West is 2 1/2 games over San Antonio, have already surpassed last season’s win total.

“The team we have this year, everybody helps each other and everybody’s playing ball,” said Marion, who is averaging 23.3 points over the last four games. “We’re out there and we’re learning, and that’s the best thing about it.”

Miami, meanwhile, is five games ahead of second-place Cleveland in the East.

Now the Heat are hoping to avoid the same problems they’ve had recently with another of the West’s top teams. Since winning a franchise-record 14 straight games, Miami has gone 2-2, with both losses coming to Seattle.

The latest defeat came Sunday, 108-98 at KeyArena, as the Heat’s eight-game road winning streak came to a halt.

“We were helping but they just spread us out too far. You know, they have a lot of shooters out there,” O’Neal said. “It was a well played game and they heated up in the end of the third quarter and the whole fourth quarter.

“Teams have to shoot the ball like that to beat us. They shot the mess out of the ball.”

So do the Suns, easily the highest-scoring team in the league with 109.7 points per game. They are shooting 48 percent from the field, second-best in the NBA to Miami’s 48.3 percent.

The Heat could have trouble putting the clamps on a Phoenix offense which looked unstoppable in its most recent game, a 124-89 rout of Indiana on Sunday. It was the highest point total of the season for the Suns, who shot 54 percent and had a 55-31 rebounding advantage.

At times, though, Phoenix has struggled against dominant big men, and Miami has the most imposing of them all.

O’Neal has been outstanding lately, averaging 28.5 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.5 blocks over the last four games while shooting 66 percent (44-for-67) from the floor.

“We’re going to guard him and hope he doesn’t kill somebody, and then we’re going to run,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s pretty simple. There’s not much you can do about that guy.”

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