MIAMI (AP)—To formulate his game plan, Miami coach Stan Van Gundy watched hours of tape, studied the New York Knicks’ tendencies and reviewed scouting reports.
And after all that, he went with the simplest possible approach—pounding the ball to Shaquille O’Neal.
O’Neal turned in one of his most complete performances of the year, a 33-point, 18-rebound effort that helped the Heat defeat New York 102-94 on Wednesday night, extending the Knicks’ slide to three games.
“I was kidding with him before the game. I said ‘We need a great one tonight, like 30 and 15,”’ Van Gundy said. “That’s coaching, guys. That’s coaching, right there.”
O’Neal made 14 of 21 shots from the floor for the Heat (26-8), who showed no ill effects from Monday’s home loss to Seattle that snapped a franchise-record 14-game winning streak.
“They weren’t really doubling that much and I always tried to take the high-percentage shot. A couple of them fell,” O’Neal said. “We felt pretty good tonight. We wanted to come back and get a big win after a tough loss the other night.”
Dwyane Wade scored 21 points, his 11th straight game of 20 or more, and added a game-high nine assists for the Heat, who held a 44-32 rebounding margin and limited the Knicks to two field goals in a seven-minute stretch of the first half.
Stephon Marbury had 28 points and eight assists, while Kurt Thomas matched a season-high with 23 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 12 rebounds for the Knicks, who dropped to 16-16—still good enough for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The game continued the Knicks’ recent trend of playing from behind. In their last three games—losses to New Jersey, Sacramento and now Miami—New York has led for 9 minutes, 53 seconds out of a possible 144 minutes.
“This is a tough stretch for us,” Marbury said. “We played three talented teams. We’ve just got to keep moving forward. We can’t let these games be a big setback. We’ve been there before and responded.”
New York’s largest lead was just four points, and that came in the opening minutes. By the third quarter, the Knicks trailed by 16—then chipped away and got within 79-71 on Vin Baker’s jumper with 9:12 remaining.
But O’Neal blocked Trevor Ariza’s layup on the Knicks’ next trip, then ran the floor, took a pass from Wade and converted a three-point play with 8:31 left to push the lead back to 11.
The Knicks never got closer than nine again until Marbury’s layup with 13.3 seconds left.
“Miami moved the ball around great,” said Knicks coach Lenny Wilkens. “If we double-teamed them they made back cuts and hit some big shots. … Give them credit, they played very well.”
O’Neal’s mere presence, as usual, affected the outcome. He got Knicks center Nazr Mohammed in early foul trouble, and Mohammed was never a real factor, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds—well off the 19.7-point, 11-rebound averages from his last three games.
“He’s the best man in the NBA because no one demands as much attention as he does,” Marbury said of O’Neal. “I love Tim Duncan and all the other big guys, but whenever you’re the most dominant player in the game, you’re by far the best player in the game.”
Shandon Anderson, who fell out of favor with Isiah Thomas in New York and was waived in November, had 12 points in 22 minutes for the Heat—matching his total offensive output from his last 11 games combined. But afterward, he wouldn’t say that beating the Knicks made his night any more enjoyable.
“Honestly, it didn’t,” Anderson said. “It just felt like a game. We’ve practiced against each other so much, that’s what it seemed like. Just a practice.”
Wade has scored at least 20 points in his last 11 games—13 when excluding a Dec. 13 game against Washington that he left early because of injury. … Baker played for the first time since Dec. 22. … Miami opens an eight-day, five-game road trip—the season’s longest—in Portland on Friday; its next home game is Jan. 19 against Atlanta. … Knicks G Penny Hardaway returned to the injured list Wednesday. He’s missed half of New York’s 32 games. … Juan Pierre of the Florida Marlins was courtside, as were hip-hop mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and singer Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child.