Archive for Friday, November 5, 2004

Mourning: Even with Shaq on board, Heat can be beaten

Key to defeating Miami, New Jersey veteran says, is to force O’Neal into foul trouble

November 5, 2004

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— The greatest center in Miami history isn't sure that adding Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat lineup makes them a sure thing for the NBA Finals.

To be blunt, Alonzo Mourning thinks a good team can beat the Heat if they can get O'Neal in foul trouble.

The problem for Mourning is that he plays for the New Jersey Nets, a team that was decimated by offseason moves.

O'Neal toyed with Mourning and his mates on Wednesday night in his Heat regular-season debut, shooting 7-of-9 from the field for 16 points in a 100-77 win.

The game also marked Mourning's first official game since getting a kidney transplant in December.

"It's a good team, but they are vulnerable, they are very vulnerable," Mourning said of the Heat, who reached the Eastern Conference semifinals last year.

Mourning, who spent seven seasons in Miami, insisted a good defensive team could shut down the shooters and the driving lane and give the Heat major problems.

"It's just a matter of approaching the game a little bit better defensively, but they are definitely vulnerable," Mourning said. "When the big fella goes out they rely on jump shooters and Dwyane Wade's penetration."

O'Neal, acquired from the Lakers in the offseason for three starters and a first-round draft pick, was limited to 21 minutes by a hamstring injury that made his availability a game-time decision. His best stretch came early in the fourth quarter when he bullied his way past Mourning for three baskets inside.

"It was one-on-one coverage and I don't know anybody in this league that can guard him one on one," said Mourning, who finished with seven points, five rebounds and four fouls in 14 minutes. "I don't care if he has a pulled hamstring or he is slow -- the man is big. He is a massive individual."

O'Neal had help against the Nets. Wade had 21 points, six assists and five rebounds. Udonis Haslem had 18 points, Rasual Butler 16, Damon Jones 15 and Eddie Jones 10.

Richard Jefferson had 19 points and Zoran Planinic came off the bench to add 11 for New Jersey, which looked nothing like the team that went to the NBA Finals in 2002 and '03 and the second round last year, losing to eventual NBA champion Detroit.

In the offseason, All-Star forward Kenyon Martin was traded to Denver and starting shooting guard Kerry Kittles was shipped to the Clippers. All-Star point guard Jason Kidd is starting the season on the injured list following knee surgery in July.

Miami hit nearly 69 percent of its shots in the first quarter in jumping to a 29-15 lead. The Nets made their only run in the second quarter, shooting 63 percent and getting eight points apiece from Planinic and Ron Mercer to close within 46-41.

"We came in at halftime and coach (Stan Van Gundy) really got into us, and told us defensively is where it is going to happen," Wade said.

The Heat limited New Jersey to 15 third-quarter points en route to handing the Nets their worst opening-night loss. The previous worst was a 22-point setback to Houston in 1993.

"We're very disappointed with our performance," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "We have a long way to go."

Damon Jones emphasized that after the game.

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