Shaquille O’Neal? Sure, he made up for early foul trouble with some plays in the fourth quarter, but he was at best the No. 3 star of his own team.
The Miami Heat is 3-0 for the second time in franchise history after Saturday night’s 118-106 victory over the Washington Wizards, and they’ve proved each game that there is more to their team than the new big guy in the middle.
“We wanted to make it difficult for Shaq, but we didn’t want Eddie and Dwyane Wade to have a spectacular night,” Washington forward Antawn Jamison said. “What we didn’t want to happen, happened.”
Wade had career highs with 37 points and 12 assists, making 11 of 16 shots and 14 of 16 free throws, and added eight rebounds. He’s been the leading scorer each game for the Heat, whose only other 3-0 start came in the 1995-96 season.
“Nice kid, humble kid. He deserves everything he’s getting,” said O’Neal, who scored 13 points in 27 minutes. “I’m just glad to be on his team.”
To which Wade responded: “It’s not my team at all. He’s the No. 1 one guy on the team. That’s just him being Shaq.”
Jones scored 12 of his 24 points in the final 2 1/2 minutes, after the Wizards rallied to tie the game at 102. He made three 3-pointers in the game-ending 16-4 run.
“I’d like to think of myself as a genius, but players win games,” Miami coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Dwyane’s coming off and making plays for Eddie, and Eddie’s knocking down shots, and I look smart. I like that.”
O’Neal, hampered a strained hamstring, was ineffective for three quarters even though he was facing a team that started 6-foot-8 Michael Ruffin at center. O’Neal committed three turnovers, made just three of 12 free throws and made most of his noise after Ruffin and backup Samaki Walker had fouled out.
O’Neal scored nine points in the final period, including a short alley-oop from Damon Jones that gave the Heat a 106-102 lead.
Gilbert Arenas had 27 points and seven turnovers for the Wizards. Larry Hughes scored 26 points, and Jamison had 24 points and 13 rebounds. Ruffin started at center because Brendan Haywood was serving the final game of a three-game suspension for a preseason fight, and Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas are both on the injured list.
The lack of a true center hurt Washington’s interior defense, allowing Wade to penetrate and the Heat to shoot 56 percent from the field.
“We pretty much have a lot of small guys out there and kind of got disrupted and confused,” Jamison said. “It was a scrambling defense.”
The Wizards will get Haywood back for the rematch Tuesday at Miami, but Brown and Thomas still won’t be available.
“Hopefully, when we get our troops back, we’ll have more of a stable game plan,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said.
The Heat were down 4-2 for 18 seconds in the first quarter, the first— and so far only—time this season they’ve trailed in a game. … The Heat had a 52-24 advantage in points in the paint. … The Heat have won five straight in the series, having swept the Wizards 4-0 last season. … The Wizards turned the starting lineups announcement into a lengthy pregame ceremony, pushing the tipoff to 21 minutes after the scheduled start time. … Even though the game was the home opener for a 2-0 team facing O’Neal, it wasn’t quite a sellout. The 19,859 attendance was a few hundred short of capacity at the MCI Center.