The Miami Heat own the best record in the Eastern Conference and are unbeaten against the Southeast Division. Now their star center has vowed to play better.
That could make for a very long night for the last-place Atlanta Hawks.
Miami looks to complete a season sweep of Atlanta when the teams with the best and worst records in the Eastern Conference meet at Philips Arena.
Another outstanding performance from Shaquille O’Neal helped the Heat continued their domination of Eastern Conference opponents with a 111-96 victory at Toronto on Wednesday.
O’Neal had 33 points and 18 rebounds, but shot only 7-of-20 from the free-throw line.
“I’m upset at myself. I should have had 50,” O’Neal said. “I missed 13 free throws. That’s unacceptable. If I want to be accepted by Wilt and Kareem and Russell I’ve got to start playing better than that. Right now I’m still in the class of Hakeem and David Robinson and that’s not good enough for me. I want to be out there with the immortals.”
O’Neal, a career 53.3 percent shooter from the foul line, is shooting a career-worst 45.7 percent from the line this season.
“I’ve got to start hitting my throws. It will be there playoff time, but I’ve got to start hitting them now so people know,” O’Neal said.
In 13 games this month, O’Neal is averaging 26.7 points and 10.9 rebounds while shooting 63.2 percent (136-of-215) from the field.
Miami, 22-4 against the East, has won all nine games against the Southeast Division, including three meetings with Atlanta. The Heat have won six straight and nine of their last 11 against the Hawks.
Miami’s Eddie Jones had one of his best games of the season Wednesday, scoring 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He had 20 points on 6-of-19 shooting in his previous two games combined.
O’Neal suggested Jones needed to make more shots after Jones went 3-for-12 from the field in Monday’s 106-98 loss at Philadelphia.
“I never feel like I have something to prove,” Jones said. “I’m not a rookie in this game, I’m a seasoned veteran. I’m a shooter. I’ve shot the ball for 11 years the same way. There are nights the ball doesn’t go in, and there are nights the ball goes in.”
Atlanta, barely ahead of New Orleans in the race to avoid the league’s worst record, lost for the fifth time in six games Wednesday, 104-87 at Minnesota.
“It’s frustrating, but I’m in the ship right with them,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “I’ve got to keep pushing and keep working because it’s on me.”
Atlanta is having trouble at both ends of the court, ranking 27th in the league in scoring offense (90.5) and 26th in scoring defense (99.8).