Shaq & Co. Head West

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

Superman and the Flash head out West this week to take on five teams with a combined 92-64 record over the next seven days. That translates into an average of five 48-win teams though it is comprised of three sub-.500 clubs (Portland, Golden State, and the Clippers), and two of the best teams in the league (Seattle and Phoenix). But does that mean the Heat will go 3-2 on this road trip?

They start with the Blazers tonight and a rematch against the Sonics on Sunday. Seattle's game will be a real grudge match as Eddie Jones will be nailing free throws left and right (well, only from the center, actually) to make up for his clangs that could have tied the contest on Monday. Damon Jones will give a clinic to the league's best three-point shooting club on how to really swish it from downtown, to make up for his missed three with a few seconds to go that would have likely given Miami the win. And Shaq and Wade will be Shaq and Wade. So already that's a 4-1 road trip if they can hold off the Blazers, Clippers, Warriors, and Sonics.

It just comes down to the Suns on Tuesday. And that right there will be an epic battle and possibly an NBA Finals preview. It's a wonderful matchup: fast breaks vs. halfcourt sets. Lots of cuts without the ball and nifty guard passes vs. lots of crafty penetration and big guy post ups. Shaq vs. Amare. Wade vs. Nash. And who will step up to guard Shawn Marion?

If the Heat go 5-0 on this road trip there is no point to holding the rest of the season. They should simply be crowned with the title when they get home, though purists would argue waiting until February 13 when they host the San Antonio Spurs.

The Heat (26-8, first in the Southeast) kick off their road trip with a game against the Portland Trail Blazers (14-16, third in the Northwest) TONIGHT. The game starts at 10:00pm Eastern and will be broadcast on the Sunshine Network and NBA League Pass.

Heat Fans, pleasemark your calendars: On Sunday, January 23, the Heat will play the New Orleans Hornets at the AmericanAirlines Arena at 6:00 pm. The Heat will be on the road on Monday, January 24, taking on the 76ers at 7:00 pm in Philadelphia.

Malik Allen(back),Dorell Wright(abdominal), andJerome Beasley(back) are parked on the injured list.


Stephen F. Holder ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: Heat coach Stan Van Gundy never professed to have all the answers.He isn't above admitting that many of his coaching decisions this season that have been described as genius were really just the result of trial and error. That's how he describes the balance Miami has achieved with its bench rotation, which has been just as critical to the Heat's hot start as any seismic slam from Shaquille O'Neal or nifty crossover dribble from Dwyane Wade.

The Miami Heraldwrites: The Blazers are struggling, entering this contest having lost five of their past seven games, including Wednesday's loss to the Clippers. Abdur-Rahim sat out the Clippers game with his injury but hopes to return tonight. Shaquille O'Neal, fresh off a 33-point performance against the Knicks, presents a matchup problem for the undersized Blazers.However, the Blazers countered that matchup in the teams' last meeting by fronting O'Neal with an extra defender.

The Associated Press writes inThe Chicago Tribune: Shaquille O'Neal is in a good mood these days, and it's no wonder. The Heat has won 15 of its last 16 games, putting it atop the Eastern Conference, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Cavaliers... So far, O'Neal and Heat second-year star Dwyane Wade have shared the spotlight easily in Miami, something he and Kobe Bryant never managed with the Lakers."He's definitely my best second-year pupil, from Little League to college to the pros," O'Neal said of Wade. 

Peter Vecsey ofThe New York Postwrites: Meanwhile, look what's going on in Miami.It's easy to see why the 26-8 Heat are dominating the East.Shaq is deferring to Dwyane Wade — allowing him to emerge unrestrained or unresented into a simonized superstar — and regularly downplaying his offensive repertoire so less artistic teammates can get off without a hand in their face.