EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Nov. 3 (Ticker) --
While Shaquille O'Neal
was not at full strength in his debut for the Miami Heat, the
New Jersey Nets already are looking pretty sick.
Battling a sore hamstring and foul trouble, O'Neal didn't need
to be the mammoth presence he usually is as the Heat coasted to
100-77 rout of the Nets in the season opener for both teams.
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Away from Kobe Bryant
, the svelte-looking 325-pound O'Neal is
expected to shift the balance of power in the Eastern
Conference. O'Neal's status for the opener was in doubt due to
a strained left hamstring, but he was able to take the court.
"I told the team not to worry about anything," O'Neal said.
"(The hype around the team), I will take care of the marketing
and the guys will just have to worry about what happens on the
court. I will handle everything else."
O'Neal may have been better off resting as the Heat completely
overwhelmed a Nets team that was purged in the offseason. Miami
scored the game's first seven points, never trailed and led by
as many as 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Almost always commanding a double-team, O'Neal's presence
managed to open up things for Dwyane Wade
and Rasual Butler
Wade netted 21 points and Butler chipped in 16.
"I'm glad to have him on my team," Wade said. "Tonight he was
in foul trouble, but just having him being in the area gives you
confidence. With that you know you can go out and do
O'Neal, who picked up his fourth foul early in the third
quarter, made 7-of-9 shots and collected 16 points and five
rebounds in 21 minutes.
"I didn't think he was moving great, obviously not at full
strength," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "But when you look
up at the game he had 16 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes,
because he's a tough guy to stop and our guys are looking for
After O'Neal went to bench at the 8:34 mark of the third, the
Heat outscored the Nets, 24-13, to end the quarter and open a
Expecting a long season with All-Star point guard Jason Kidd
until at least December and unable to stabilize an overhauled
roster, the Nets hardly resembled the team that has made three
straight playoff trips, including back-to-back appearances in
the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.
"It's a combination of turnovers and jump shots not formed,"
Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "It's a process, it's going to
be a long season. We're very disappointed with our performance
and we have a long way to go."
Olympian Richard Jefferson
, one of the few stars the Nets still
have, scored 19 points. Zoran Planinic
, often buried on the
bench last season, added 11 and four assists.
"This is a process," Jefferson said. "In the past, we became a
great defensive team because we knew each other. We knew what
to expect, and we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses.
We're going to be all right."
With the Nets concentrating on O'Neal in the first quarter,
Butler was the one to benefit. He made 4-of-5 outside shots and
scored 10 points, helping the Heat open a 29-15 lead.
"We were focused and came to play," O'Neal said. "My team
played really well. Rasual got us off to a good start."
In the first quarter, the Heat shot a sizzling 69 percent
(11-of-16). The Nets had as many turnovers (four) as baskets
and took the crowd of 17,260 out of the game.
The Nets got back into it in the second quarter, when Ron Mercer
scored eight of his nine points to narrow the deficit to 46-41
at the half.
But after O'Neal went to the bench in the third, Udonis Haslem
had a follow dunk, Butler buried a 3-pointer and Wade made two
free throws, rebuilding the lead to 57-45 with 6:31 to play in
the period. New Jersey got no closer than nine points
added 15 points for the Heat, who shot 51 percent
(37-of-73) and held a 42-36 rebounding advantage. The Nets just
shot just 38 percent (28-of-74).
Nets center Alonzo Mourning
, making his return to the court
after undergoing a kidney transplant last season, had seven
points and five rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench against his