He might feel differently about the rematch.
The NBA’s two conference leaders square off when the Heat host the Spurs in a potential NBA Finals preview.
The Spurs beat the Heat 93-84 on Nov. 12 in the first of two meetings between the teams this season. O’Neal, who was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers in the offseason, had 23 points and 21 rebounds, but was not a factor in the final minutes of the game.
“This is different now,” he said afterward. “When I was in the purple and gold (of the Lakers), it was always two teams fighting for a chance to play in the Finals and win a title.”
O’Neal could well be fighting for a title again this season.
The Heat own the best record in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the league behind San Antonio and Phoenix. They beat the expansion Charlotte Bobcats 97-87 on Friday for their fifth straight victory and eighth in nine games.
O’Neal scored 32 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and made Charlotte’s Melvin Ely, who drew the difficult task of guarding him for most of the game, feel foolish.
“He makes me look like I don’t belong out there,” Ely said.
Damon Jones added 22 points despite playing on a sprained ankle for the Heat, who failed to score 100 points for the first time in nine games. Eddie Jones had 12 points, and Dwayne Wade, who has replaced the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant as Shaq’s new partner, added 11.
O’Neal could have some help underneath the basket soon. The Toronto Raptors bought out Alonzo Mourning’s contract on Friday amid speculation that the seven-time All-Star center would sign with Miami, which is only 11-10 against Western Conference opponents.
Mourning never reported to the Raptors after being traded on Dec. 17 in the deal that sent Vince Carter to New Jersey. He would be free to sign with Miami on Tuesday if he passes waivers, which is likely since he is owed at least $14 million under his current contract.
“We’re already one of the favorites to get it done,” O’Neal said, referring to the Heat’s title chances. “With him in the lineup, it will make us a little more favorable to get it done.”
The Spurs beat the Nets 101-91 on Friday for their sixth win in seven games. Tony Parker scored 17 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter for San Antonio, which improved to 17-3 against the East.
Duncan returned after missing back-to-back games with a sprained right ankle and had 16 points and 15 rebounds. The Spurs, who are 21-0 when scoring 100 points, are 4-1 on their seven-game road trip.