Archive for Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Shaq warns his critics: Don’t count him out

December 19, 2007

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— Shaquille O'Neal sees this as just another test.

His 14.3 points-per-game average is, by far, the lowest of his career. His Miami Heat are 7-17, one of the worst records in the NBA, and look nothing like the team that won a championship 18 months ago. His leg hurts, his pride aches and he knows that, at 35 years old, many believe he's finished.

Not surprisingly, O'Neal, a four-time NBA champion, begs to differ.

He still believes in the Heat and, perhaps most importantly, he still believes in himself.

"Do I feel tested? Yeah," O'Neal said Tuesday. "I'll either pass or fail. That's why they call it a test."

O'Neal had 15 points and eight rebounds Monday in Miami's 91-87 victory over the woebegone Minnesota Timberwolves, a game where the Heat had to dig deep in the final minutes to prevail at home over the NBA's worst road team.

Numbers-wise, even though he fouled out, it was among his better games this season. But his assessment?

"Terrible," O'Neal said.

He scoffs at the notion that his days as a dominant big man are done. Sure, he's not an MVP candidate any more, and Dwyane Wade - not O'Neal - has been Miami's most vital scoring option in recent seasons. But he's almost defiant in his insistence that if given more shots, he would be more effective.

O'Neal is averaging 10 shot attempts per game. Asked how many he wants, he wouldn't give a specific number.

"More than 10, so I can get into the game," O'Neal said. "My son can't even get into a game with seven shots."

His frustration is obvious, with both his own numbers and the Heat record.

But he's not the same big, bad O'Neal that he was a few years ago, either.

Injuries nag him now and, in some cases, take incredibly long times to heal - like a thigh bruise he suffered in the preseason and still remains rather problematic, so much so that O'Neal confessed Tuesday that he must "rely on almost illegal things to get me going."

"He's getting better," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "He's getting therapy. I'm not seeing him, right now, drag the leg like he did about a week ago, 10 days ago. He was really laboring to lift the leg. I'm not seeing that in his game, so that's better."

Riley has resisted changing the Heat offensive philosophy and still considers O'Neal an important part of the attack.

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