Heat expect miffed Diesel as playoffs go on

Updated: May 9, 2005, 1:39 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal repeatedly said over the course of the season that championships, not individual honors, were his sole focus.

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His Miami Heat teammates don't necessarily believe him, and they expect O'Neal to vent some frustration throughout the remainder of the playoffs.

Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns is the league's MVP, ESPN.com first reported on Friday, and the award will be formally announced Sunday. O'Neal will finish second, probably by one of the closest margins in league history.

O'Neal -- who will finish among the top nine in the MVP balloting for the 13th straight year, yet only has won the award once, in 2000 -- would not talk to reporters Friday. His teammates and coaches, however, continued their insistence that O'Neal was the logical choice for MVP.

"It would be a disappointment to me," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said, hours before word of Nash's MVP win became known. "The way Shaq has turned around our team and our franchise, it'd be a disappointment. Look what happened to our team and look what happened to the team he came from."

With O'Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers were Western Conference champions in 2004; they were 34-48 and finished 11 games out of a playoff spot this year. Meanwhile, Nash's former team, Dallas, improved its record without him this season, going from 52 wins to 58.

O'Neal averaged 22.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, plus led the league in shooting (.601). Nash averaged 15.5 points, a league-best 11.5 assists, and ranked sixth in 3-point percentage (.431) and 21st in field-goal percentage (.502, tops among point guards).

"When you talk about MVP, you have to evaluate not just one end of the floor, but both ends, offense and defense," Heat guard Damon Jones said. "Steve Nash has done a wonderful job, but does he really affect the game on the defensive end? Offensively, he's superb. But hands-down, Shaq is the MVP."

Nash and O'Neal both changed teams last summer, and both clearly made their teams better. Nash helped Phoenix transform from a 29-win club last year to one with an NBA-best 62 wins this year. And with O'Neal, Miami added 17 more wins to its total from 2003-04, plus earned the No. 1 seed for the East playoffs.

"He could have come in and led the league in scoring if he wanted to, led the league in rebounding and blocked shots, but he came in and got everybody involved," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "He made everybody on this team better. For him to win MVP only once is unbelievable. This was his year."

Mourning finished second in the 1999 MVP voting and third, behind O'Neal and Kevin Garnett, in 2000.

"It's disheartening," he said. "Nobody remembers you for being second."

He said he wouldn't want to face O'Neal now, not with the motivation of another MVP snub.

"I don't want to play against him if he's [angry]," Mourning said. "Glad he's on my team."m Duncan received the other two.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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