MIAMI (Ticker) -- The Miami Heat will begin their playoff march
with a huge question in the middle when they host the New Jersey
Nets in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round
Superstar center Shaquille O'Neal has been suffering from a
right thigh bruise since April 17. He missed the final two
regular-season games and sat out of practice until Saturday.
O'Neal is listed as questionable for Game One. If he is unable
to go, it will drastically change the complex of the series
against the Nets, who won 10 of their last 12 regular-season
games to reach the postseason.
Miami enters as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and
closed out the regular season on a three-game winning streak,
despite missing O'Neal for the majority of those contests.
Winners of their last four regular-season games, the Nets have
been riding the renaissance of Vince Carter as a top scorer in
the league. The All-Star has averaged over 27 points since
coming to New Jersey in mid-December. Over the last four games,
Carter is averaging 36.3.
New Jersey will be getting Richard Jefferson back for the
series. Jefferson had been averaging career highs of 22.2
points, 7.3 rebounds and four assists before being sidelined
with a torn ligament in his left wrist.
The Heat won all three meetings against the Nets this season by
an average of 21.3 points.