- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

One thing has become clear in Miami this season: Stopping Shaquille O’Neal does not necessarily mean stopping the Heat.

Of course, O’Neal is expected to become the team’s focal point as the season matures, but at least for now, second-year point guard Dwyane Wade is carrying the undefeated Heat, which in turn has taken the heat off O’Neal.

The Wizards (2-1) discovered that Saturday night when Wade set career highs with 37 points and 12 assists in leading Miami to a 118-106 win over Washington at MCI Center. The Wizards get another shot at the Heat tonight in Miami.

O’Neal, acquired over the summer from the Los Angeles Lakers for Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom and a future first-round pick, has been slowed by a hamstring injury. The Wizards have lucked out somewhat by getting two of the four meetings with the Heat out of the way with O’Neal at less than full strength, but that didn’t matter Saturday.

O’Neal finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, looking like himself only at the free throw line, where he shot 3-for-12. Still, the Heat improved to 3-0.

Wade, on the other hand, ranks third in the league in scoring at 28.7 points a game. Against the Wizards on Saturday he made numerous forays to the basket and 14 of 16 free throws, a performance that probably nailed down his selection yesterday as the Eastern Conference player of the week.

“Going into that game it was, ‘How are you going to stop Shaq? He’s dominant. What are you going to do?’” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Coming out of that game you say, ‘How are you going to stop Wade?’”

One thing that should help keep O’Neal in check and Wade from driving the lane will be the return of Wizards center Brendan Haywood. Haywood, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal last week, was suspended for the first three games of the season for his part in a fight during a preseason game.

“They pose a double threat, but I think we can eliminate some of that if we force Dwyane Wade to shoot jumpers,” Haywood said. “Last game he scored 37, all on layups from what I can see. That’s not acceptable. We have to go out there and force Dwyane Wade to be a jump shooter and give the Daddy as much attention as we can on the inside.”

There’s also the question of the Wizards’ health, namely point guard Gilbert Arenas. Arenas bruised his left heel when he landed awkwardly while attempting a dunk in the first quarter Saturday. He finished with a team-high 27 points and practiced at full speed yesterday but has been walking with a noticeable limp the last two days.

“Right now, truthfully, it’s about 35 percent,” said Arenas, who claimed he will play tonight. “Whatever time I play, mostly I’ll be playing on my toes unless this medicine works.”

The Wizards will need all the help they can get against a surprisingly balanced Miami team. Jordan said players like Rasual Butler and, more importantly, Eddie Jones, who scored 12 points in the final 2:26 on Saturday, are big concerns.

But Wade appears to be priority No. 1.

“We are emphasizing keeping him on the perimeter,” Jordan said. “When he breaks us down, it’s just forget it. Shaq is there for lobs or offensive rebounds. The 3-point shooters are open, or even Wade finishes himself. You have a three-headed dragon when he starts to penetrate.”

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