<
>

Shaq perfect from the field

MIAMI (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal thinks Miami's opponents are
rising to the challenge of playing against him and Dwyane Wade. And
right now, the Heat aren't responding the way their center would
prefer.

Still, even a work-in-progress Heat team is good enough to win
games, thanks largely to their star duo. Wade scored 25 points and
O'Neal added 21 -- plus tied a team record by making all nine of his
shot attempts -- in Miami's 106-104 victory over the Boston Celtics
on Sunday night.

"We've got to understand that every team that plays us, they're
going to be playing damn near perfect ball so we have to play
almost damn near perfect ball," said O'Neal, who had 13 rebounds
for his ninth double-double in 11 games.

"We have to match their effort," he said. "If we have more
effort, then we'll win by 20 and 30."

Boston ran past the Heat for 17 fast-break points in the fourth
quarter to erase what was a 13-point deficit, and clawed into a tie
with 6:11 left -- despite shooting 30 percent from the floor after
halftime.

Paul Pierce missed one of two free throws with 5 seconds left
that would've tied it for Boston, which lost its fourth straight.
He made the second to bring the Celtics within one before Christian
Laettner made one to restore Miami's two-point lead with 3.1
seconds left.

Boston had a last chance to tie, but Ricky Davis'
double-clutched baseline jumper sailed long at the buzzer.

"If we play like that on most nights, we're going to win more
than we lose," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "The part I liked
best is we got down, and there were no heads hanging like we've had
in the past. Guys stuck in there and kept fighting."

O'Neal's 9-for-9 effort improved his shooting over the last
seven games to 55-for-79 -- 69.6 percent. He also passed Clyde
Drexler for 19th on the NBA's all-time scoring list, finishing the
night with 22,214 points -- 19 more than Drexler managed in 262 more
games.

Wade had nine assists and Damon Jones had eight of his 16 points
in the fourth quarter for Miami, which improved to 9-1 against the
Eastern Conference and 7-0 when cracking the 100-point mark. Eddie
Jones added 12 for the Heat, who are 3-1 in games decided by two
points or less.

Raef LaFrentz scored a season-high 21 points -- all in the first
three quarters -- for Boston. Pierce had 17, Davis 16 and Gary
Payton 15 for the Celtics.

"I think we needed a little energy booster to get us going,"
Davis said. "We just couldn't finish the game."

The Celtics missed 13 of their first 14 shots of the third
quarter, allowing Miami to build a 78-65 edge. Boston clawed its
way back, using a 9-0 fourth-quarter run to get within 87-86, but
never reclaimed the lead.

O'Neal blocked a layup by Davis with 39 seconds left to protect
Miami's two-point lead, then fouled Pierce hard enough to ensure he
wouldn't tie it with a layup on the Celtics' next-to-last
possession. And while the Heat players left the floor giddy, coach
Stan Van Gundy was angered by his team's lack of execution.

"We're just not willing to make the effort to play hard enough
against teams who want to run the ball up and down the floor," Van
Gundy said. "And it's appalling."

Added Wade: "He's right. It's ridiculous."

The win continued Miami's run of success this season against
teams outside the NBA's upper echelon. The Heat's 10 wins have come
against teams with a combined winning percentage of .418 entering
Sunday; their five losses have been to teams that are winning at a
.606 clip.

Game notes
LaFrentz had scored 19 points in his last three games
combined. ... Miami had two turnovers in the first 2:43; it took
the Heat 34:45 to commit two more. ... Boston is 0-3 when playing
the first game of back-to-back contests. The Celtics are in Orlando
on Monday. ... Heat backup C Michael Doleac played a season-low
three minutes. ... Boston made 34 of 38 free throws; it was
shooting 75.8 percent for the season coming in, ranking just 18th
in the NBA.