- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal, troubled by bruised thighs, was held out of last night’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Washington Wizards at MCI Center.

Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said before the game that if O’Neal did not play, it would be a “medical decision” and not Shaq’s call.

Asked if resting Shaq might pay off down the road, Van Gundy replied, “It’s a medical decision, period. It’s never a good thing when you have one of your best players out. It’s never a positive.”

O’Neal was replaced by former Georgetown star Alonzo Mourning, a 12-year veteran. Mourning has filled in capably when O’Neal has gone to the bench but there is only one Shaq, despite his injuries.

“I have great confidence in Alonzo, but Shaquille O’Neal is Shaquille O’Neal,” Van Gundy said. “And he’s wearing three [NBA championship] rings for a reason.”

Mourning, 35, who previously had spent seven years with the Heat, was re-signed as a free agent March 1. He began the postseason as the club’s all-time playoff leader in points (793) rebounds (284) and blocks (111).

A kidney ailment that eventually required a transplant forced Mourning to miss the entire 2002-03 season. Traded to Toronto earlier this season, he eventually was waived, setting the stage for the Heat to reclaim him.

O’Neal was averaging 18 points and 8.2 rebounds through six playoff games. He seemed especially bothered in Game 2 on Tuesday, when he had 16 points and seven rebounds in 37 minutes. During the regular season, Shaq averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

Hughes for the defense

Sidling up to Wizards guard Larry Hughes in the tunnel before last night’s game, ESPN sideline reporter Michele Tafoya jokingly admonished her camera crew.

Hey, you don’t keep a first-team all-defensive player waiting.

After missing out on a probable All-Star selection because of a midseason thumb injury, Hughes was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team yesterday, becoming the first Washington player in 26 years to receive the accolade.

“It’s an honor,” said Hughes, the fourth player in franchise history to be named to the All-Defensive first team. “It’s something I work hard at, playing defense. It’s a plus to get recognized for it. I want to be the guy who plays offense and defense.”

Hughes led the league with 2.89 steals a game this season, the highest average since Scottie Pippen’s 2.94 in 1994-95. Blessed with long arms and keen anticipation, Hughes posted at least two steals in 44 of the 61 games he played, swiping a season-high seven balls against Chicago on Dec. 4.

“Most of it’s learned, just knowing the game,” Hughes said. “I look at a lot of things as far as anticipation. How people’s bodies move. How people pass. A lot of people try to pass against their body, then come back the other way to get the ball. I get a lot of steals that way. I watch a lot of tape, think about basketball …. I just want to be disruptive.”

In his seventh pro season, Hughes posted All-Star caliber offensive numbers, averaging 22.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Still, some of his best performances came at the defensive end.

In two games against Seattle, Hughes harassed Sonics guard Ray Allen into 13-for-40 shooting. In a pair of contests versus Los Angeles, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was 15-for-44.

Hughes is the first Washington player named to the All-Defensive first team since Bobby Dandridge in 1978-79 and the first named to an All-Defensive squad since Manute Bol in 1985-86.

“That goes back to the playground,” said Hughes, who grew up in St. Louis. “We always said that it does you no good if you score 20 and the other guy scores 25. I’m not one to let a guy score. You dominate, you dominate by scoring and playing defense.”

Hughes has been less successful against Miami’s Dwyane Wade, who was named to the All-Defensive second team. The Heat guard averaged 25.5 points over the first two contests of the series and in Game 2 drew some fouls on Hughes that the Wizards guard called “questionable.”

“But there’s a respect factor [with the officials],” Hughes said. “He’s an All-Star. I don’t want to take anything from him, but I’ll be ready.”

One man, one vote

As reporters gathered around Hughes in the Wizards’ locker room, guard Gilbert Arenas shouted out words of encouragement.

“First team All-Defense?” Arenas yelled. “Congratulations, dog!”

Arenas then put a question to the room: “Where am I at?” A Wizards public relations staffer told him he received one vote, just like teammate Brendan Haywood.

“I told you, man!” Arenas said jubilantly. “I’m not that bad on defense. All I wanted was one.”

Haywood smirked.

“What, Lute Olson got a vote?” cracked Haywood, referring to Arenas’ college coach at Arizona.

Arenas smiled at Haywood.

“We might get some calls tonight,” he said with laugh.

“Why?” asked Haywood.

“Because I’m beside [Hughes].”

Haywood shook his head.

“We still can’t get a charge on Dwyane Wade,” he said.

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