Nets' Collins draws ire of Heat, Shaq for 'flopping'

Updated: May 8, 2006, 2:22 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The new buzzword in Miami these days: Flop.

Not "flop" in the sense of failing to reach a certain goal. No, "flop" in basketball lexicon, when a defender acts like he's been assaulted to lure an offensive-foul call -- a ploy Heat center Shaquille O'Neal believes opposing big men have victimized him with for years.

"They're all the same," O'Neal said. "They're all their little flopping fraternity. A flop-ternity, that's what I call it."

And for whatever reason, New Jersey's Jason Collins seems to raise O'Neal's ire more than most rivals, creating one of many subplots entering Game 1 of the Nets-Heat Eastern Conference semifinal series: How, exactly, will the Nets aim to slow the Heat's biggest man?

The first part of that answer will be revealed Monday night, when the series begins in Miami.

"Any time you are going to go up against one of the best players in the history of basketball you look at it as a challenge," Collins said. "Shaq has proven time and time again that he is one of the best big men in the history of the game and a dominant player. It's going to be our job as a team to try and contain him."

Both teams needed six games to advance past the first round, closing out their series with road wins Thursday; the Nets ousted Indiana, the Heat defeated Chicago.

Vince Carter averaged 29.2 points for the Nets in the opening series; Dwyane Wade averaged 24.7 for the Heat in theirs, and O'Neal had a 30-point, 20-rebound effort in Miami's Game 6 clincher over the Bulls.

"What I liked about what he did the other night, more than anything else, is not the 30 points," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "I think it was the 20 rebounds and the fact he was so active around the boards. ... He needs to be active."

It's the second straight year New Jersey and Miami have met in the playoffs. The Heat swept the Nets in last season's opening round, albeit with a much different roster than what they have now.

"We're not thinking about last year, man," Wade said. "We've got a different team, so we can't even think about that -- and they're a better team. We just want to concentrate game by game on what we've got to do, but we're confident no matter who we play, as well you should be at this time of year."

Carter was sensational against Miami in the regular season, averaging 38.5 points on 56 percent shooting as the Nets -- who had lost 10 straight games to the Heat after dropping a matchup here in November -- won the season's final three meetings.

Simply put, Miami had no answer for Carter in those games.

"The regular season is a thing of the past," said Carter, who averaged more than 30 points against only two other teams this season. "It's the playoffs. The game changes. It's totally different. I had a great four games against them, but I have to be better if we want to win. I'm just going to play. If it happens, it happens."

It's obvious that much of Miami's defensive attention will be geared toward slowing Carter, Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd, and just as evident that the Nets will swarm to keep Wade off-balance.

Yet it's the O'Neal-Collins matchup that may prove vital.

Collins isn't a scorer; he averaged a career-low 3.6 points this season, and managed a total of 11 points in six playoff games against Indiana. His job, for the next two weeks or so, will be planting his 255-pound body between O'Neal and the basket, then agitate the Heat center as much as possible.

He has a reputation of being a thorn to O'Neal, and it's apparently well-deserved.

In their last five matchups, O'Neal -- who is 8-0 against the Nets in playoff games -- has shot 40 percent (21-of-53) when Collins is on the floor, 77 percent (10-for-13) when he's not.

"There are certain things we try to limit but with that being said, you just go out and do your best," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "You give him different looks, sometimes try to get the ball out of his hands, sometimes you try to force him one way. He is a phenomenal, phenomenal player."

In Miami's four playoff wins, O'Neal averaged 23.8 points and 13.3 rebounds. In the two losses, both games where he was plagued by foul trouble, he averaged 12 points and 6.0 rebounds.

And if the Heat have to play long stretches with him sidelined against the Nets, they could be dealing with a flop of different meaning.

"Key to my life," O'Neal said. "Key to every series."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press