Game 2 a must-win for Miami at home

Updated: May 9, 2006, 6:59 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal repeated the words often, perhaps only to provide himself much-needed reassurance.

The phrase?

 Shaquille O'Neal

"I've been in this situation before," O'Neal kept saying after practice Tuesday, 18 hours or so removed from the debacle that was Miami's effort in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against New Jersey.

And yes, O'Neal has been in this situation -- a 1-0 hole in a playoff series -- before, 12 other times to be exact. His teams have rallied to prevail in only three of those series, and if the Heat want to be the fourth entry on that list, they could certainly use a victory in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

"It's nothing to be worried about," O'Neal said. "It's nothing to panic about. We just know that we didn't do anything right last night."

The Nets jumped on the Heat early in Game 1, feasting on nine first-quarter turnovers on the way to building a 17-point edge after 12 minutes, and eventually wound up with a 100-88 victory that New Jersey guard Jason Kidd said only looked easy.

"It's never easy on the road against a very talented team like Miami," Kidd said. "It's never easy. They missed a lot of easy shots."

While Miami is vowing to bring a different level of effort in Game 2, New Jersey will probably take on a different look as well -- although it's a change the Nets would prefer not to make.

Forward Richard Jefferson has a bone bruise on his right ankle, an injury that kept him sidelined for the final 22 minutes of the series opener and will likely leave him sidelined on Wednesday night; he's listed as doubtful.

"We just have to hold it down until he gets back, if that's the case. ... His health is first," said Nets guard Vince Carter, who scored 27 points in Game 1. "For selfish reasons, we'd like to have him out there, pull a Willis Reed or something, but his health is more important. We'd rather have him for the seven-game series than Game 2."

If the Heat reprise their Game 1 play on Wednesday, Jefferson -- who had 20 points in 23 minutes in Game 1 -- won't have to hobble onto the court like Reed famously did for the New York Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals.

Miami was outshot (49 percent to 39), outran (the Nets held a 21-14 lead in fast-break points), and outplayed in the opener. The Heat called the performance "embarrassing" and vowed that improvement is certain.

"I just need to bring more energy, more focus into the next game because it is a very important game," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who scored only five of his 25 points after halftime in Game 1. "Especially on your home floor."

All that being said, the Nets -- who lost the opener of their first-round series at home to Indiana, but rallied to win in six games -- truly expect to see a much better Miami team in Game 2.

"We understand how good a team this is," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "They have two of the five best players in the league. They have a great, great supporting cast around them, guys who are future Hall of Famers and All-Stars and they have a Hall of Fame coach. It was just one game."

Miami turned the ball over eight times in its first 12 possessions Monday, when the Nets built a 20-7 lead.

The start couldn't have gone better for New Jersey, which silenced a sellout crowd, frustrated the Heat and got O'Neal in foul trouble -- he was whistled for two charges, continuing a habit that has plagued him throughout the postseason -- all by the time the game was five minutes old.

So while New Jersey arrived for their workout Tuesday looking relaxed and fiddling with iPod's in the locker room, Miami's mood on the upstairs practice court was considerably less sanguine.

"A lot of times, it's the team coming off the loss that kind of has a chip on their shoulder," Frank said. "And it's important for the team that's won to maintain that same intent that they had to win the game. That's why the playoffs are probably more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge."

O'Neal-led teams rallied from 0-1 deficits in the 1998 Western Conference semifinals (with the Los Angeles Lakers beating Seattle in five games), the 2001 NBA Finals (over Philadelphia) and the 2004 West semifinals (over San Antonio). His team dropped Game 1 at home in just one of those series, the 2001 Finals.

"When no one does anything right, the outcome is usually like this," O'Neal said. "But the key is not to have two games in a row like that."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press