Jones’ dramatic shot and O’Neal’s defense capped an impressive late rally in Miami’s final warmup before Shaq’s much-hyped return to Los Angeles to face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Saturday.
“This is a tough place to get a win, so we feel good about how the team is playing,” said O’Neal, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds in a gritty victory over the Kings. “Every game means a lot, but believe it or not, this one (in Los Angeles) will not be one of my top 100 battles.”
O’Neal gave Sacramento a chance to steal the win by missing two free throws with 10.9 seconds left. But he made up for it in his own inimitable style, blocking Bibby’s ensuing drive to the hoop with about two seconds to play.
Chris Webber’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was well short, and Miami extended its longest winning streak since late in the 1997-98 season.
The Heat also became just the third Eastern Conference team to win in Sacramento in 53 games over the last four seasons—not a bad way to head into the most-anticipated regular-season game in recent memory.
“We knew we had two tough games on this road trip, and we didn’t want to overlook this game going into Saturday’s game,” O’Neal said. “We kind of got off to a bad start, but we’ve been a pretty good second-half team the last 13, 14 games. We just played good team ball, just hung in there and played good defense.”
Webber scored 26 points and Bibby had 21 points and eight assists for the short-handed Kings, who nearly beat the East’s best team despite playing largely without three of their top six players.
“We’ve had our share of games like this,” Webber said. “I’m tired of losing them. They’ve got a good team, but it still hurts to lose like that.”
Sixth man Bobby Jackson is sidelined with torn ligaments in his wrist. The Kings also had to make do with limited contributions from two starters: Brad Miller received a deep cut on his shin and played sparingly, and Doug Christie was ejected in the third quarter.
Sacramento led 101-89 with 5:23 to play, but Miami tied it on Eddie Jones’ free throw with 1:46 left. The Heat went ahead 106-104 on Damon Jones’ free throws with 51.1 seconds left, but Peja Stojakovic hit a difficult 3-pointer from in front of the Kings’ bench.
“Our guys played their tails off the whole game,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “I don’t know how many shots we had, but they were wide open from different people, and we couldn’t get one to go down. It was just a tough loss.”
Dwyane Wade had 22 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Heat, but was limited in the second half by the defense of Sacramento journeyman Maurice Evans, who also had season highs of 12 points and eight rebounds playing in Christie’s place.
Damon Jones had 18 points and hit four 3-pointers, while Eddie Jones finished with 21 points and three 3-pointers—and O’Neal provided one last dramatic flourish.
O’Neal remained silent during the day, refusing to speak to reporters at the morning shootaround or in the locker room before the game. He hopes his play speaks for itself back at Staples Center, where he won three championships and bickered with Bryant during his eight seasons with the Lakers.
Miller missed much of the first half after a collision with Wade under the basket in the first quarter. Miller returned in the second half after getting 15 stitches to close a gash down to the bone on his right shin—but he also spent most of the game in foul trouble, playing just 20 minutes.
The Kings then lost Christie when he was ejected for his second technical foul after a midcourt collision with Wade. Referee Bennett Salvatore called T’s on both players for jawing, but Christie already had a technical from an earlier argument.
Miami shot a better percentage than its opponent for the 16th straight game—the first time that’s been done since Boston did it in 1992. … After Miller was injured, he went to the locker room to get a makeshift bandage on his shin so he could shoot his free throws, then went back to get stitches. If he hadn’t shot his own free throws, he wouldn’t have been allowed to return to the game. … The Kings were called for two lane violations on Miami free throws. … Webber scored 14 points in the first quarter on 7-of-9 shooting.