Heat 105, Timberwolves 91

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MIAMI (AP)—Shaquille O’Neal knows there are naysayers who question whether he’s still a dominant force for the Miami Heat.

He repeatedly insists that doesn’t bother him.

But he’s enjoying disproving those notions, too.

Using jump hooks, drop steps and dunks, O’Neal scored a season-high 32 points on Friday night, lifting the surging Heat to a 105-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. He made his first seven shots, was 13-of-16 from the field and had nine rebounds, as Miami won its fifth consecutive game and 11th straight at home.

“Once you learn how to do something, you don’t lose it,” O’Neal said. “Unless you die.”

He and the defending NBA champion Heat are very much alive these days.

Jason Williams scored 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting and Eddie Jones had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, who shot 58 percent to move within 2 1/2 games of Washington for the Southeast Division lead. Miami hosts the Wizards on Sunday.

“Shaq was huge tonight,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. “He seems to keep getting healthier and hungrier and, to be honest with you, more humble. The fact that he’s doing these things now, every single night, maybe with the backdrop that some people doubted that he could do it is making him feel good about himself.”

Kevin Garnett had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Ricky Davis added 21 points for Minnesota, which lost for the seventh time in nine games.

“We’re trying to get something going,” Garnett said, after his team failed to gain any ground in the crowded race for the final Western Conference playoff spot. “It’s not like we’re gaining days here. We’re running out of games to try to get back in this race—if we are really trying to make the playoffs.”

There was a 20-minute delay before the second half could start because the basket the Heat were to shoot at was damaged by a halftime-show performer who was hanging on the rim. The entire structure—backboard, frame and all—was wheeled out of the arena and a backup was put in place.

But it clearly didn’t affect the Heat, who shot 68 percent in the first 14 minutes of the second half and never trailed after the lengthy intermission.

It was the second time this season a Minnesota game was delayed by a basket issue; the Timberwolves’ matchup with Utah on March 2 started 30 minutes late because one basket was 2 inches too high.

“There’s got to be only two this year and we’re involved in both of them,” Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said. “That must have been a hell of a halftime show.”

O’Neal scored 15 points in the opening quarter, his best one-period total of the season, with the last five of those coming in a 29-second span to put Miami up 22-17 early.

And although Minnesota hung around most of the way, the Heat—now 6-2 since leading scorer and reigning NBA finals MVP Dwyane Wade dislocated his left shoulder—wouldn’t trail again.

Garnett hit a left-wing jumper with 9:03 left in the third to get Minnesota within 59-53, but consecutive baskets by O’Neal rebuilt a 10-point edge. Williams had 12 points in the third, including two 3-pointers, and Alonzo Mourning had eight straight Miami points over a 3-minute stretch to build a 13-point edge with 10:20 left.

“We were right there at halftime,” Wittman said. “Jason got going, making some shots. That really stretched us out. That kind of hurt us.”

Mourning finished with 14 points in 12 minutes and James Posey scored 10 points for the Heat, who outrebounded the Timberwolves 40-28. Mark Blount finished with 17 points for Minnesota, and Randy Foye had all 12 of his points in the fourth.

It was the ninth time in franchise history that Miami—which shot 55 percent in Wednesday’s 103-70 win over Chicago—has shot 55 percent or better in consecutive games.

“We’re playing with a ton of confidence right now,” Heat forward Antoine Walker said.

Notes

The Heat wore special black uniforms for “Noche Latina”—Latin Night — with flags of 20 Spanish-speaking nations, plus Portugese-speaking Brazil, adorning the trim. Phoenix, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers, teams with large Hispanic fan bases, are also participating in the initiative, and the Heat will wear theirs again Sunday against Washington. … Minnesota was 3-for-12 from 3-point range. … Wade said his rehab is going along on schedule, and Heat forward Jason Kapono (ankle sprain) expects to get his protective cast removed in about a week. … Garnett has led the Timberwolves in rebounding 58 times in 61 games. … Minnesota F Mark Madsen (sprained ankle) played for the first time since Feb. 21.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Minnesota
K. Garnett K. Garnett
9-17,  23 Pts
11 Rebs, 4 Assists
 Miami
S. O'Neal S. O'Neal
13-16,  32 Pts
9 Rebs, 2 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists

Scoreboard

Friday, Mar 9