KEY BENCH PLAYERS:
C Alonzo Mourning, G Smush Parker*, G- F Dorell Wright, G- F Anfernee Hardaway*,
F Wayne Simien
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)
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
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
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."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Heat
Another way of
looking at Dwyane Wade's injury is that it forced him into a period of extended
rest; with fresh legs he might be capable of an MVP season. And if Shaquille
O'Neal comes up with a great year, then the Heat can contend, because that
could still be the best one-two punch in basketball. Even at Shaq's age, nobody
comes close to his strength--nobody. . . . Age is a big concern. This is a team
whose window is closing unless it can inject a couple of really good, lively
players around Wade. But Pat Riley wants to win now. As soon as he doesn't
think he can win the championship, he's out of there. . . . Jason Williams is
playing for a contract, so maybe he'll have a good year. But he has a history
of knee problems, and there's not going to be a big market for him. . . .
Antoine Walker can still do a little bit of everything even though he plays
like an old man--he can't really turn around in the post and juke and fake you
to get his shot off. Plus he travels on almost every single play.