WASHINGTON (AP)—With less than a week to go before his 35th birthday, Shaquille O’Neal took command of the game and could not be stopped. Woe unto the Washington Wizards, who tried to stop the big man one-on-one.
Just like old times, O’Neal assumed control when it mattered most Wednesday night. He scored all 12 of his team’s points over a 13-minute span late in the third quarter and most of the fourth, finishing with a season-high 23 points to lead the Miami Heat to a 92-83 victory.
“I don’t have the same 1,000-percent explosiveness,” said O’Neal, who missed 39 games early in the season with a knee injury. “But it’s coming back.”
In a game without Dwyane Wade, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison—and with Gilbert Arenas having another poor shooting night—O’Neal became the star attraction with a variety of moves against helpless Wizards center Brendan Haywood. O’Neal backed in for a basket. He tossed in an underhand reverse layup with his left hand. He converted a soft hook, then a half-hook. He scored with a spin move.
“A lot of people don’t think he can play anymore,” Miami coach Pat Riley said. “That’s why they guard him one-on-one. They’re making a big mistake if he keeps getting his rhythm down.”
“If somebody thinks he’s too old or too whatever, at the end of the day the man’s still over 300 pounds,” Haywood said. “When somebody weighs that much more than you, there’s nothing you can really do if there’s no double-team coming. It’s like playing against your big brother. You can try as hard as you want to, but he’s older and bigger than you and there’s nothing you can do.”
O’Neal, forced to carrying more of the load while Wade is out with a shoulder injury, finished 11-for-17 from the field and also had 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He would have scored more had he not missed six of seven free throws.
“I’m known as ‘The Big Sewer,”’ O’Neal said, “because I’ve got a lot of you-know-what in my game.”
When Eddie Jones hit a 3-pointer with 1:12 to play, it broke the all-Shaq Miami parade and gave the Heat a nine-point lead, essentially sealing the game. Meanwhile, the Wizards were absolutely cold, shooting 7-for-26 in the fourth quarter of their fourth straight loss.
The Heat improved to 2-2 since Wade’s dislocated his left shoulder. He is scheduled to get a second opinion Thursday to determine whether he should have season-ending surgery.
Arenas, basically a one-man band for the third straight game because of injuries to Butler (back) and Jamison (knee), scored 15 points on 3-for-18 shooting. He is 14-for-61 over his last three games. He missed all eight of his 3-point attempts and has made only 19 of his last 101 3-pointers, a skid that started the day after his 25th birthday.
“He’s carrying the whole franchise on his shoulder right now,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “You can’t ask anything more of him.”
DeShawn Stevenson led the Wizards with 19 points.
The Wizards broke a 16-game losing streak (including playoffs) to the Heat in December—a game Wade and O’Neal both missed.
This time, O’Neal couldn’t be missed.
“I think when guys guard him one-on-one, he likes it but he’s kind of insulted,” Haslem said. “Because he thinks that people feel like he’s lost it a little bit. He don’t appreciate that.”
Gilbertology update: About two hours before tip-off, Arenas was spotted in a concrete basement stairwell underneath the Verizon Center, moving very slowly up the stairs. He looked more like a patient recovering from hip surgery than a professional athlete as he put his right foot on the next step, then carefully placed his left foot next to his right. “Hey, you all right?” Arenas was asked. “Yeah, I’m OK,” he replied. “Ritual.” … Riley was hoping for an emotional lift from the team’s visit to the White House on Tuesday, when President Bush honored them for winning last season’s NBA title. “Based on what’s been going on this season with us, the gloom and doom thing has dampened the spirits,” Riley said. “But I think yesterday was buoyant.” … The Wizards signed F Mike Hall to a 10-day contract and released C James Lang. … Cal Ripken performed a ceremonial opening tip, and his son Ryan won pizzas for everyone by making a 3-point shot during a second-half timeout. … Miami’s Jason Kapono had a career-high eight assists. … Butler had an MRI on his back, but it revealed no structural problems. “It’s just back spasms,” coach Eddie Jordan said.