Sat, Jan 08, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Happy Shaq just has fun

AMERICAN BASKETBALL The Miami Heat center is averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, has hit 60 percent of his shots, and enjoys the unselfish play


Heat center Shaquille O'Neal, center, is guarded by Tim Thomas, left, and Nazr Mohammed of the Knicks during the first quarter of their game at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Wednesday.


A wisecracking Shaquille O'Neal is a happy Shaquille O'Neal, and the Miami Heat center is firing off plenty of one-liners these days.

It's no coincidence that his team is atop the Eastern Conference.

O'Neal is averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, has hit an NBA-best 60 percent of his shots and ranks fifth with 2.7 blocks per game for Miami (26-8), which is 5 games ahead of Cleveland in the East.

His 33-point, 18-rebound performance lifted the Heat to a 102-94 win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night -- Miami's 15th victory in its last 16 games, one that put O'Neal in a pretty good mood.

"We're playing good, moving the ball, playing unselfish, having fun, doing things it takes to win," O'Neal said.

And then, the comedy routine began, one where O'Neal addressed his evolving relationship with Miami's star second-year guard Dwyane Wade, how to have success on the road and the latest in a series of cracks he's taken against his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant -- whose name he refuses to say.

So far, O'Neal and Wade have shared the spotlight easily in Miami, something he and Bryant never managed.

The Heat duo are the NBA's highest-scoring twosome, their combined 45.8 points-per-game average just edging the 45.7 Seattle's Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis carried into Thursday's game at Washington.

"I think [Wade] knows that he's a good player. I think he feels that he could be even better," O'Neal said. "I didn't even know he was 22 until I asked him how old he was the other day. He's definitely my best second-year pupil, from Little League to college to the pros."

At each of his stops so far -- Orlando, the Lakers and now Miami -- O'Neal has been paired with a young guard possessing superstar potential.

With the Magic, it was Penny Hardaway. With the Lakers, Bryant. And O'Neal swears that Wade is easily his favorite, saying his poise and humble ways set him apart.

"Finally, I have someone that's like me," O'Neal said. "My other two pupils were the opposite sides of the moon. But this guy is on the same side of the moon, is on the same planet that I'm on."

Miami opens a five-game, eight-day road trip, its longest of the season, on Friday in Portland. Miami has won its last seven games away from home -- the best current streak in the NBA.

The secret to road wins? "Stay out of the gentlemen's clubs. Get a lot of rest. Just have fun and relax and stay focused," O'Neal said.

All kidding aside, the trip won't be easy.

Following the Portland matchup, Miami visits Seattle and Phoenix -- two of the NBA's best teams -- in a three-night span, then plays at Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers before heading home.

"We want to solidify ourselves as the top team in the league, so we need to go out on the road and get it done," Heat guard Eddie Jones said.

O'Neal often says he's pleased with the way Miami has started the season, but also cautions that there's still many more obstacles the Heat need to overcome before becoming a title contender.

"Being the best right now," O'Neal said, "doesn't do anything for my feathers."

Bonzi Wells scored 23 points to help the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Detroit Pistons 101-79 on Thursday, extending their season-high winning streak to five games.

The Grizzlies (17-17) reached .500 for the first time this season. They were 5-11 when they hired Mike Fratello on Dec. 2 to replace the retired Hubie Brown.

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