- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

MIAMI — For anyone wondering whether the Miami Heat are Shaquille O’Neal’s team, the big man left little doubt last night in leading Miami to a 106-83 rout of the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena.

O’Neal, averaging a career-low 20.1 points, looked anything but aged and infirm last night against the Wizards’ frontline, finishing with a season-high 40 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.

“You couldn’t do nothing with him,” said a resigned Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards’ leading scorer with 18 points. “We tried everything, doubling him and fronting. We tried everything you can try. He just dominated tonight.”

In a vintage way.

O’Neal shot 15-for-23 from the floor. Of his 15 field goals, nine were dunks, the type of baskets that deflate most defenders, who only can stand back and watch the 7-foot-1, 330-pounder throw it down. And as an added bonus, O’Neal was 10-for-16 from the free throw line.

“He was their first, second and third option,” Wizards guard Larry Hughes said.

His point output exceeded the 33 combined points he scored in the teams’ first two meetings of the season, both Heat wins. It marked the first time a Heat player scored at least 40 since Alonzo Mourning on Feb.23, 2000.

“I told my teammates that I wanted it tonight,” O’Neal said. “Coach [Stan] Van Gundy was gracious enough to keep calling my plays. Whenever I am scoring like that and whenever I am hitting free throws like that, I want coach to call my play. I was very happy he granted my wishes tonight.”

The Wizards will get their last look at the Southeast Division-leading Heat on Wednesday when the Heat will go for the season sweep at MCI Center.

The Wizards struggled against the Heat, particularly their big trio of Antawn Jamison, Arenas and Hughes, who combined to shoot just 15-for-57 from the floor.

“We’ve just got to throw this one out,” Arenas said. “We’ve got to do what we did, but this time we’ve got to come out and make shots. We didn’t do that tonight.”

The good news for the Wizards was the performance of Kwame Brown. In his second game back from a one-game suspension, Brown came off the bench to score a season-high 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting.

Before last night’s game, the Wizards talked about trying to minimize the damage from the Heat’s leading scorer, Dwyane Wade. In that regard, the Wizards caught a break. Wade, the league’s sixth-leading scorer at 24.0 a game, left the game scoreless in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle.

Of course, that still left the Wizards to deal with O’Neal, who some have suggested is starting to show signs of wearing down. But last night he looked spry, and that resulted in foul trouble for the younger Wizards guarding him.

Washington (12-7) was forced to play much of the second half without starting center Brendan Haywood because of fouls. Haywood, who scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a victory over lowly New Orleans on Sunday, picked up his fourth foul of the game less than a minute into the second half and finished with just six points and five rebounds.

The Heat fed off O’Neal in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Wizards 35-21. Miami led by eight with 7:15 to go but outscored Washington 24-9 the rest of the way.

The loss puts into perspective, at least for now, where the Wizards rank in the league. While their season must be characterized as a success so far, they have gone 1-6 against teams with winning records.

“We are still maturing. We are still young, and we got some wins,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We have to monitor our growth and how we approach the game. We focused on Dwyane and Shaquille. I thought we did a good job on Dwyane for a period of time. But if you don’t make shots you just can’t get juiced up to continue the effort.”

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