By TIM REYNOLDS

MIAMI, Nov. 3 (AP) -- After a preseason where Miami routinely faced huge deficits, then endured a 42-point loss to Chicago on opening night, Heat coach Pat Riley wondered if his team was on the cusp of a crisis.

Shaquille O'Neal doesn't think that's the case.

O'Neal had 21 points and nine rebounds, Dwyane Wade finished with 17 points, and the Heat got plenty of contributors down the stretch to beat the New Jersey Nets 91-85 on Friday night.

``Bad things that happen to us,'' O'Neal said, ``will only make us stronger.''

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No reigning titleholder had ever opened a year with consecutive home losses, but this win wasn't decided until the final moments - and went Miami's way thanks largely to Gary Payton and James Posey's late efforts.

Posey hit two crucial 3-pointers in the final minutes and finished with 10 points, while Payton, who had 14 points, also hit a late 3 to preserve the Heat's fledgling lead. And then Wade helped seal it, ducking behind Jason Kidd, taking a perfect pass from Payton and scoring for an 86-82 lead.

``We didn't perform the way we wanted to,'' Wade said, ``but this team always responds.''

Vince Carter had 27 points for New Jersey, including a short jumper from the left baseline to tie the game at 73 with 5:56 left.

``We were in a good position the last six minutes of the game, with a chance to win the game,'' Carter said. ``We felt like we were right there. Two big 3-pointers by, I think, Posey and G.P. made us play catch-up.''

Indeed, Posey hit a 3-pointer on Miami's next possession - with the shot clock down to :02 - and the Heat stayed ahead the rest of the way.

``That was a little bit of the team I remember,'' Riley said.

The Heat avoided becoming the sixth defending NBA champion to start a season 0-2, and looked nothing like the group that got embarrassed by the Bulls on the night they received their championship rings.

O'Neal said the emotions of the pregame ceremony doomed Miami in that one.

``It's hard to go from happy-jolly to kill 'em all,'' said O'Neal, who was 10-of-16 from the field to make amends for Tuesday's seven-point, five-rebound effort against Chicago.

Nenad Krstic had 20 points and Richard Jefferson added 11 on 4-of-15 shooting for the Nets, who lost to Miami in five games in last season's Eastern Conference semifinals.

Kidd, who had a triple-double in New Jersey's season-opener, had nine points, nine rebounds and three assists.

``Our guys gave a very good effort,'' Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. ``We got the game in the last 6 minutes where it was tied and could go either way.''

Miami led 43-41 at halftime, closing the second quarter on a 13-5 run and doing it all with Wade benched by three fouls.

In the third, Miami used another 13-5 run to build a 65-62 lead going into the final 12 minutes.

New Jersey led 57-52 when Krstic hit a jumper, but the Nets made only two of their next eight shots - while O'Neal had eight points in the quarter to help Miami take the lead again. And in the fourth, the balanced effort got it done for the Heat.

``We just didn't do a good job of closing it out,'' Jefferson said.

Notes: Miami outscored New Jersey 22-17 in the second quarter, the first winning period for the Heat this season. ... The Nets hit their first three tries from 3-point range, then were 3-of-17 the rest of the way. ... Through two games, Miami is 8-of-33 on 3-pointers. ... New Jersey C Clifford Robinson sat out the last of his five-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.


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