O'Neal scored 26 points and actually made more free throws than
he missed, leading the Miami Heat to a 106-96 victory over the
hapless Hawks on Friday night.
"It's hard to get up for Jason Collier," said O'Neal, taking a
shot at the starting half of Atlanta's nondescript center duo. "I
had to let him slap me around a few times to wake me up."
Actually, Peja Drobnjak got most of the minutes at center for
the Hawks. Not that he fared much better than Collier.
"I tried every way to guard Shaq, but you just can't do it,"
Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "He's the most dominating player
in the league."
Not even "Hack-a-Shaq" worked.
Shooting just 45.7 percent at the foul line and coming off a
7-of-20 performance in a victory at Toronto two nights earlier,
O'Neal surprised the Hawks by going 6-of-11 at the line.
"I did OK," O'Neal said nonchalantly. "It's not something I'm
worried about yet. I'll keep shooting them and when it's time to
concentrate, I'll concentrate. I don't like to concentrate too
early. My brain's not that big."
Shandon Anderson, replacing an ailing Eddie Jones, added 21
points for the Heat, who lead the Eastern Conference with a 32-13
record -- including 16-8 on the road.
The Hawks are at the opposite end of the East. They lost for the
fifth time in six games and it really doesn't matter if they're
home or away.
Atlanta fell to 6-17 at Phillips Arena despite one of the larger
crowds of the season, which was sprinkled with local sports stars
Antoine Walker matched his season high for the Hawks with 36
points, going 6-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also made a
run at a triple-double, pulling down 10 rebounds and doling out
It wasn't enough for Atlanta, especially when O'Neal stepped up
with 17 points in the second half.
"Shaq played an excellent game," teammate Dwyane Wade said.
"We tried to get him the ball down low as much as possible. They
had no one who could match up with him."
The Heat were on the verge of blowing the game open in the third
quarter. O'Neal took a pass from Wade while hurtling down the lane
and got off a monstrous slam, despite getting fouled by Walker.
O'Neal made the free throw to finish off the three-point play,
which gave Miami a 77-61 lead.
O'Neal headed to the bench after picking up his third foul,
sitting out the final 5:52 of the period. The Hawks took advantage
of his absence, putting together a 21-4 run to reclaim the lead.
Walker hit a pair of free throws with 6 seconds remaining to make
"It was tough (to watch)," O'Neal said. "When I'm out, the
other guys have got to keep the intensity going. We let up against
a team we're supposed to beat."
But, while the public address announcer was bragging that the
Hawks were back in front, Miami raced down the floor. Wade passed
to Anderson streaking off the baseline and he slammed over Josh
Childress, who was also called for a foul. Anderson sank the free
throw to put the Heat ahead 84-82 heading to the final period.
O'Neal returned for the fourth, and Miami slowly pulled away.
Wade finished off the Hawks, soaring above the rim to tip in a lob
pass from Damon Jones for a 106-94 lead with 2½ minutes to go.
Jones also made four 3-pointers, finishing with 18 points. Wade
had 19, while the Heat's other starter, Udonis Haslem, scored 17 --
all in the first half.
Miami finished off a four-game sweep of the Hawks in the season
series, and the Heat has won seven in a row against Atlanta going
back to last season.
"We have a lot better players than they do," Miami coach Stan
Van Gundy said. "At times you're maybe battling overconfidence.
But (Woodson has) got a bigger battle on his hands. He just doesn't
have as much talent as we do. That's a fact."
With the victory, the Heat clinched the best winning
percentage in the Eastern Conference through games of Feb. 6, so
Van Gundy will coach the East in the All-Star game on Feb. 20 in
Denver. ... Tyronn Lue added 17 points for the Hawks. ... Eddie
Jones didn't play because of flulike symptoms. ... Atlanta G Josh
Smith was selected to play in the rookie game during All-Star
weekend in Denver next month. ... All five Miami starters had
reached double figures by midway through the third quarter.