Shaq scores 23 as Heat rally, top Bobcats

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Forget the struggles against the NBA's
top teams and the erratic play against everyone else, Shaquille
O'Neal thinks its way too early to determine just how far the Miami
Heat will go this season.

"I don't worry about it yet," O'Neal said after the Heat had
to rally to a 91-85 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday
night. "I've made it to the (NBA) Finals with a perfect record,
I've made it to the Finals with a so-so record, I've made it to the
Finals from the fifth spot.

"So right now, we're in the second spot (in the Eastern
Conference) and we're fine. We still have a lot of opportunity to
get it done, but its up to us."

O'Neal had 23 points and Antoine Walker scored 12 of his 15 in
the final quarter to help the Heat pull out the win.

Miami should have easily handled the injury-ravaged Bobcats, but
instead trailed through most of the first three quarters. Playing
without guards Dwyane Wade and Jason Williams, the Heat were barely
able to stick with the Bobcats and had just 30 points at halftime.

It was disconcerting struggle for a team that is 0-6 this season
against the four teams with the best record in the NBA, and needs
to rack up the easy wins to keep its front-runner status.

Coach Pat Riley isn't panicking just yet.

"I truly believe when all the parts are healthy, I know how
good we are," Riley said. "I've said it over and over again and I
will continue to say it: I just think this team can do it, can do
something special.

"We know there are going to be nights like these."

The Heat avoided an embarrassing loss behind Walker, who stepped
up in the fourth quarter with three straight baskets to finally put
Miami in control and hand the Bobcats their 10th consecutive loss.

"It's real important to get him, he's our missing link,"
O'Neal said. " He's going to be our Robert Horry. We need him to
step up and hit shots and be consistent with the high percentage

Charlotte started down five players -- three starters -- then lost
Brevin Knight for the entire second half with a concussion. Knight
was injured when he ran into Gary Payton early in the first quarter
but played on, only to be told by team doctors not to go back out
after halftime.

"This year is getting ridiculous," Charlotte coach Bernie
Bickerstaff said. "I've never seen anything like this. I guess I
won't be able to say that again because we're experiencing it

With Knight gone, it left the Bobcats too shorthanded to hold
off a Heat rally.

"We went out there and played our hardest and put ourselves in
good position to win the game," Charlotte's Melvin Ely said.
"Then once again we got bit by that bug of somebody going down in
the game. Our leader left us, we tried to maintain it and it just
slipped away."

Udonis Haslem scored 17 for Miami and Payton added 11.

Matt Carroll scored 20 off the bench to lead Charlotte. Primoz
Brezec had 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Ely and Raymond Felton
scored 15 each.

The Bobcats held on to a slight lead for most of the first three
quarters, but they never could pull away from the Heat.

Haslem then gave Miami its first lead since the first quarter
when he opened the fourth with a jumper for a 62-60 lead. The Heat
followed it with three consecutive baskets by Walker to slowly take
control of the game.

Alonzo Mourning added a short hook shot to make it 70-60, then
Walker was left open in the corner to hit a 3 -- capping a stretch
that saw Charlotte shoot 0-for-5 with three turnovers.

Brezec later scored five straight points to pull Charlotte
within 82-76, but Miami ended the run when O'Neal tried to dunk in
a loose ball, missed, tried to tap in the rebound, missed again,
but stuck with it for a layup that drew a foul. He made the free
throw to put the Heat up 85-76 with 55 seconds to go.

"A game that could have been very, very ugly for us turned out
to be a win," Riley said. "That's all that counts."

Game notes
The Heat are tuning out criticism they received
following Thursday's loss to Phoenix. "I am totally indifferent to
what other people think," Riley said. "There are always going to
be people trying to take you apart. But I do know if we are 0-6
against the top teams, there is room for improvement." ... NASCAR
driver Kasey Kahne teamed with Bobcats forward Emeka Okafor to host
50 students and chaperones as part of their "Team 950" foundation
that provides opportunities for disadvantaged children. Because
Okafor is out with a sprained ankle, he was able to sit with the
kids for a part of the game. ... Mourning, who spent three years in
Charlotte as a member of the Hornets, got a rousing ovation when he
checked in late in the first quarter.