O'Neal is ready to rumble after his UFC-style workouts.
In part because of the early-season absence of Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade averaged a franchise-record 27.4 points in 2006-07. He has raised Miami's single-season scoring record in each of the last three years.
Record: 44-38 (5th in East) Points scored:94.6 (28th in NBA) Points allowed: 95.5 (8th) Coach:Pat Riley (third season with Heat)
In fighting trim, an aging Shaq is out to show he's still able after a season of lows
As part of his off-season training regimen, Shaquille O'Neal practiced mixed
martial arts every day. "UFC-style wrestling: fighting, punching in the face,
choke holds," O'Neal says. "I'm a big fan of the sport."
O'Neal hopes to lift the Heat off the canvas after a dismal, injury-ravaged
year, in which the 2006 champs stumbled to a 44-38 finish before getting KO'd by
the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. For O'Neal, who missed
10 weeks after tearing cartilage in his left knee last November, the season
was about as much fun as being stuck in an octagon with Randy Couture. O'Neal
wound up playing just 40 games and set career lows in scoring, rebounding,
blocks and minutes. Although he rallied to carry Miami on a 16-6 run down the
stretch, he looked cement-legged in the postseason.
For the first time in his 16-year career O'Neal heard whispers that he was
washed-up. That's why he spent the summer training like a heavyweight hoping for
one last title shot. In addition to his martial arts work, he also boxed, swam
and did yoga. "He's got more flexibility than he's ever had," coach Pat Riley
The 35-year-old O'Neal might not pull down backboards anymore, but he will
still draw double teams. That's even more important now that the Heat is without
forwards Jason Kapono and James Posey, who both left as free agents. In
addition, Dwyane Wade will miss the start of the season as he recovers from May
shoulder and knee surgery.
Miami might be too thin on the bench and too slow defensively to challenge
for the title. But with a motivated O'Neal in the middle -- and a healthy Wade
roaming the perimeter -- the team will be in the thick of the Eastern Conference
race. "As a leader, it's time for me to step up," Shaq says. "I'm ready to go." -- Marty Burns