Heat 93, Nets 86
A well-rested O’Neal scored 17 of his 19 points in the final two quarters and the Miami Heat won their eighth straight game with a 93-86 win Thursday night.
“I was really upset,” said O’Neal, who fended off a late Nets run with a basket in the lane with 1:07 to play. “I felt like they tried to limit me, whoever ‘they’ may be. So I just said to myself third quarter I’m going to come out and do what I do.”
O’Neal had plenty of help as the Heat won for the 16th time in 20 games, and for the ninth time in 11 since Dwyane Wade went down with a shoulder injury.
“I think it helped us out in a strange way with the big fella being out (knee) early this year and now Dwyane being out, and just different guys being out,” Haslem said when asked how the Heat have overcome so many injuries. “I don’t think there’s any situation that any of us haven’t faced, any situation that makes us uncomfortable.”
The win pulled Miami within a half-game of first-place Washington in the Southeast Division.
“There’s teams in front of us that are winning just as much as we are,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. “So in order for us to catch anybody, we have to keep winning. That’s all there is to it.”
Jason Kidd had nine points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for New Jersey in narrowly missing his 11th triple-double of the season. Richard Jefferson had 20 points and Vince Carter added 12 on 4-of-15 shooting from the field.
“Our shots didn’t fall tonight, and by and large, they were very very good shots,” coach Lawrence Frank said. New Jersey finished 31-of-80 from the field (39 percent), with Kidd and Carter making only 1 of 8 in the fourth quarter.
Miami, which led 68-60 entering the final quarter, appeared to be in command when O’Neal made a free throw to push the lead to 86-75 with 4:32 to play.
Riley took O’Neal out after that and the Nets scored the next nine points to get within 86-84 on a 3-pointer by Jefferson with 1:26 to play.
O’Neal returned, made a power move in the lane and scored for an 88-84 edge. After Kidd missed a 3, Haslem made two free throws and Miami was never threatened again.
“He is a great leader,” Jefferson said of O’Neal. “When Dwyane went out and people questioned his ability to carry the team, he is showing that he can still do it. It also helps in a weird way having that injury (knee). Now he has his legs, he is rested and he is carrying the team.”
O’Neal, who picked up three fouls in the first half and played less than 6 minutes, dominated the third quarter, scoring 12 points, grabbing four rebounds and blocking a shot.
His presence in the middle also made the Nets a jump-shooting team and they only hit 7-of-21 from the field.
The Heat took advantage with a 15-2 spurt that turned a 51-47 deficit into a 62-53 lead on a baby hook by O’Neal, who was 5-for-7 shots in the quarter.
“When he came out in the third quarter he was just committed that he was going to get to the basket, get to the basket, they didn’t double him, and we got that post up game going,” Riley said.
The home game was Jefferson’s first since Jan. 20 against Orlando. He had ankle surgery a couple of days later and did not return to the linup until last week. … Miami is now 27-2 when leading after three quarters. … The Nets had a two-game winning streak broken but lost for the sixth time in eight games. … Kidd landed hard on his right shoulder fouling O’Neal in the fourth quarter but finished the game.