CHARLOTTE, N.C., Feb. 12 (Ticker) -- The return of rookie Emeka Okafor was not enough to help the Charlotte Bobcats contain Shaquille O'Neal and the Miami Heat.

O'Neal scored 32 points and gathered 12 rebounds as the Heat improved on their Eastern Conference-leading record with a 97-87 triumph over the Bobcats, who have lost five in a row.

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Earlier Friday, the Bobcats activated Okafor from the injured list after the prized rookie missed five games with a sprained left ankle. But the return of last June's second overall pick may have been short-lived as Okafor re-injured the ankle midway through the fourth quarter and did not return.

Okafor did not believe the injury would be as serious as the initial one.

"I'm walking around right now," Okafor said. "After the last time, I was on crutches."

"You never know about these things until the next day, in terms of how they feel and what kind of swelling you're dealing with," Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff added.

Despite scoring 13 points and grabbing seven boards, Okafor was no match for the bigger O'Neal, who scored 10 points in both the second and fourth quarters and eight in the decisive third period.

"We should all be so fortunate to have a weapon like the big fellow," Bickerstaff said. "Not only did he make baskets, but some of the passes he made to teammates were great. He is a guy that makes a difference."

Charlotte carried a 40-38 advantage into the break. But with the game tied at 53-53 with 5 1/2 minutes to go in the third period, Miami went on an 18-4 run to take a 71-57 lead with 54 seconds remaining.

"We just had to get warm," O'Neal said. "They came out with a lot of energy. A lot of teams come out with a lot of energy and play way above their heads, and this team did the same thing in the first half. The good thing about the NBA is, there are four quarters."

"We battled," said Charlotte guard Brevin Knight, who scored 17 points. "They are a good team with a great player inside. We played them as tough as we could play them. Their guards hit threes when they needed them. We didn't have enough to get to them."

Knight was kept out of the starting lineup by Bickerstaff after oversleeping for practice Thursday.

The Bobcats climbed within 92-87 with 1:49 left on a jumper by Jason Kapono, who scored 14 points. But Charlotte did not score again and Miami raised its record to a conference-best 38-14.

"We had more talent than they did," said Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, who was disappointed with his team's effort. "It certainly didn't come down to the team that played harder or better. I thought (Charlotte) tried to play the game very hard, but we did just enough to get by."

Damon Jones scored 14 of his 22 points in the third quarter and added eight assists and Dwyane Wade collected 11, seven and nine rebounds for Miami, which has won five in a row and eight of nine.

"The shots were going in tonight," Jones said. "I had some great looks. When we move the basketball, we shoot a high percentage, and I had some good, wide-open looks and I was able to make a few."

"He was absolutely huge, just like he was (last game)," Van Gundy said of Jones, who scored a season-high 24 points in an overtime win at New York on Wednesday. "He and Shaq really carried us tonight."

Theron Smith had 10 points and seven rebounds and Melvin Ely pulled down 11 boards for the Bobcats, who have dropped five straight and 22 of 25.

Charlotte trailed midway through the opening quarter but moved ahead, 8-7, on a basket by Gerald Wallace with 6:50 to go and built a 34-26 lead - its biggest of the game - on a hook shot by Ely with six minutes remaining in the second period.

In going 17-of-42 from the line, the teams set a league record for worst combined free-throw percentage at 40.5 percent. The previous mark of 41 percent was done by the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago on December 7, 1968.

A 46 percent free-throw shooter, O'Neal accounted for six of Miami's 10 successful foul shots.

"Shaq was 6-for-15 and that's a higher percentage than the rest of the team," Van Gundy said. "He carried us at the line tonight."