- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

MIAMI — You would have to be out in the Florida sun too long to believe Shaquille O’Neal is now just a complementary player, a simple sidekick struggling with injuries during the playoffs.

O’Neal, however, looks like a mere mortal this postseason compared with Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade.

The second-year guard turned in another blazing performance against the Washington Wizards last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with 31 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds to lead Miami to a 108-102 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena and help give the Heat a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

The 6-foot-4 Wade, who scored, defended and went strong to the basket, was virtually flawless, aside from his free throw shooting (11-for-19).

?A magnificent performance,? Miami coach Stan Van Gundy said.

?We’ve got to find a way to limit Dwyane Wade’s penetration and keep him out of the paint,? Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said.

Good luck. The rising star, who led the Heat in scoring (24.1 points) and assists (6.8) this season, arguably had his best game of the year.

?Maybe if I hit some free throws it could have been a better game,? Wade said. ?Overall, I think I had a different mind-set coming into the game. I really wanted to help my teammates and be a playmaker, and that transferred into doing other things.?

Wade also was the primary defender on Wizards guard Larry Hughes, who missed his first 11 shots.

?Dwyane played harder and better defensively than I’ve seen him play this entire postseason,? Van Gundy said. ?I thought he did a fabulous job defensively. He was on the boards. I mean, to have the line that he had tonight, incredible.?

Meanwhile, the banged-up O’Neal has not been up to his dominating standards. The 7-1, 325-pound center’s numbers are noticeably down from both the regular season and his career postseason totals. He had 16 points and seven rebounds last night.

O’Neal has been suffering from bruised thighs.

?He was really fighting it tonight,? Van Gundy said. ?He was struggling to run a little bit, but he fought it out, and he still gives us that presence.?

For the second straight game and a practice in between, O’Neal refused to speak to the media.

Van Gundy spoke for him.

?Shaq played well,? he said. ?This is the thing: It’s probably the reason he didn’t win the MVP award. Everything is so relative to people’s expectations. … Shaq gets 16 and seven in a playoff game against a good team, and everybody wants to know what’s wrong. Yeah, he’s not 100 percent, he may not be Shaq, but if he can put up the numbers he’s been putting up in the playoffs every night and he were a free agent, people would be offering 10 to 12 million dollars.?

But O’Neal, the league’s highest paid player at $27.6 million a year, is averaging 18 points and 8.2 rebounds during the playoffs, down from 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds in the regular season. And in 158 playoff games with Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers, who he led to three NBA championships, O’Neal averaged 27.2 points and nearly 13 rebounds.

Van Gundy would not be deterred.

?That guy, right now, on that leg, is a [heck] of a basketball player,? he said.

Except that, as the coach himself said, he isn’t Shaq.

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