O’Neal, who is averaging 18.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, is off the pace from last season—his first in Miami—when he put up 22.9 points and 10.4 boards while finishing second in the MVP voting to Phoenix point guard Steve Nash.
“Remember, I’ve only been back a couple weeks,” said O’Neal, referring to the 18 games he missed with a sprained ankle earlier this season. “I’m still getting there. Not there yet. I’ll get there.”
In Sunday’s 97-92 win over his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, O’Neal shot just 8-of-18 from the field and had a season-high six turnovers, but still finished with 18 points and a season-high 17 rebounds.
“It wasn’t them. It was me,” O’Neal said. “It’s never them. It’s always me.”
Heat coach Pat Riley agrees, claiming opposing centers have illegally checked O’Neal all season, employing illegal tactics such as locking both forearms and pushing in the back.
“I’m sure that everybody will say that I’m just trying to complain, but I don’t see how he could ever get to the basket,” Riley said.
Riley says O’Neal needs to rely less on his power game, and use his jump hook more often, especially when he’s not getting the foul calls.
“We’re going to hire a couple sumo wrestlers. We’ll bring them in, and we’ll have them lean on him,” Riley said. “We’re not going to let him just back them in, and then he’s going to have to take 100 jump hooks and 100 turnaround jumpers.”
The Bucks come into Tuesday’s matchup at Miami following a 108-93 loss at Orlando on Monday night as Michael Redd, Milwaukee’s top scorer, went 4-of-16 from the field for 17 points. The Bucks had won two straight and nine of their previous 12 games.
“I missed a lot of easy shots,” Redd said. “No disrespect to their defense. I knew it would be geared toward me, but I missed a lot of shots I would normally make.”
“They did a good job of not letting us get back into the game,” Ford said. “They kept making plays and kept attacking us.”
STANDINGS (through Dec. 26): Bucks - 3rd place (tied), 7 GB, Central Division. Heat - 1st place, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Bucks - Redd, 24.8 ppg; Magloire, 10.4 rpg; Ford, 6.9 apg. Heat - Wade, 26.3 ppg and 6.6 apg; O’Neal, 8.8 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 15; Heat, 100-83. At Milwaukee, Wade scored 27 points and Payton added 20 to lead Miami.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bucks - 7-5 on the road; Heat - 10-4 at home.