The Miami Heat star heard rumblings about O'Neal being traded before Wednesday, but couldn't bring himself to expect that it was going to happen.
"You don't see a guy like Shaquille O'Neal getting traded very often," Wade said after losing to the Detroit Pistons 100-95 in his first game with O'Neal as an ex-teammate.
The Heat sent O'Neal, who won his fourth title in Miami two years ago, to Phoenix for four-time All-Star Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks hours before the game.
"It was big when we got Shaquille and when we won a title with him, and it's a significant day to lose him," Heat coach and president Pat Riley said. "It was just a move we felt we had to make."
Rasheed Wallace, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds to lead Detroit to its sixth win in a row, said he can see the pluses and minuses for the Suns in their deal for the banged-up O'Neal.
"When he gets healthy, he's not going to be able to run with the Suns, who will have a four-man break instead of a five-man break," Wallace said. "But it ups their chances with him because he's still going to get double-teammed."
If the Heat were down emotionally about the deal, which was announced within hours of tipoff, they didn't show it.
Miami led 22-18 after the first quarter and despite trailing by 11 after the third, the short-handed team didn't give up.
Wade, who had 30 points and 12 assists, pulled the Heat within a point with just under 3 minutes left and he set up Ricky Davis' 3-pointer to make it 94-92 with 21.5 seconds to go.
"Our problem was, we didn't anticipate a tough game," Billups said. "We played a little dangerous."
Miami, the NBA's only team without 10 wins, has lost five in a row and 20 of 21.
The Heat's fall has made Billups appreciate Detroit's run of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals the past five years and winning the 2004 championship.
"There are a lot of situations that remind me of the way we've been able to keep it going," Billups said. "When I first got here, New Jersey was the cream of the crop in the East and look at them now. Indiana was a great team and I thought they were going to compete with us for a lot of years.
"It makes you appreciate what Joe [Dumars] does to keep this team together."
Each of Detroit's starters scored in double figures against the Heat.
Wallace led the way, while Hamilton scored 19, Billups had 15 points and 10 assists, Antonio McDyess had 10 points and 13 rebounds and Tayshaun Prince added 14.
Wade had some help, and he'll need plenty of it in the future without O'Neal in the middle.
Even though Wade was saddened to lose a valuable teammate and a close friend, he's looking forward to having Marion join him in Miami. The forward has averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds in his career.
"Shawn is going to bring a lot to our team, especially defensively," Wade said. "He's only going to make us better."
The Heat requested waivers on Luke Jackson, who signed as a free agent on Dec. 12 and averaged 5.6 points while making fewer than one-third of his shots in 14 games. ... After official Brian Forte called a technical on Wallace, who was complaining about a call against McDyess, the bombastic center had more to say. "He needs to go back to the NBDL or middle school -- one or the other," Wallace said to veteran official Eddie Rush during a timeout shortly after the technical in the fourth quarter. ... Detroit won at Miami 91-80, and the two teams are scheduled to meet two more times. ... The Pistons announced a sellout, but a winter storm that hit the area led to thousands of empty seats.