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Heat celebrate Shaq’s impact ahead of jersey retirement

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade still remembers when he initially heard the rumor that Shaquille O’Neal was coming to the Miami Heat, and how his first reaction was disbelief.

And then came the 18-wheeler that carried O’Neal to his arrival in Miami, as he happily fired a squirt gun at throngs of screaming fans.

“We had a vision to be a championship team,” Wade told The Associated Press on Wednesday, “but it wasn’t for real for real until Big Fella came and pulled up on that truck.”

A grand celebration was had on that day in July 2004, the franchise’s first of three NBA championships followed two years later, and the Heat will give O’Neal their version of an ultimate thank-you on Thursday night when they raise his No. 32 banner to the rafters. He will be the third Heat player to get such an honor, joining only Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

“I said `I promise I’m going to bring a championship here,”‘ O’Neal said. “And we did.”

Fittingly, the Heat will fete O’Neal at halftime of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers – who have also retired his number.

“He changed the direction of our team,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “He brought an absolute legitimacy to our franchise. And when we won the championship I think it sort of took us over the top. He deserves to be honored by having his number hanging from the rafters. It’s not just out of respect. It’s because of what he did for us.”

The NBA is permitting a longer-than-usual halftime for the ceremony, in which Riley and O’Neal will be among the speakers. O’Neal won his first three titles with the Lakers, then got his fourth in Miami to make good on the promise he made when he stepped out of that truck to deliver a championship to Heat fans.

And, in a nod to that infamous arrival, the Heat will have an 18-wheeler bearing the “Diesel Power” artwork that greeted him 12 years ago at the arena.

“Big Fella in Miami changed everything,” said Wade, who’s now with the Chicago Bulls but will one day have his jersey hanging next to O’Neal’s in Miami. “Changed everything for everyone.”

O’Neal appeared in 205 regular-season games over parts of four seasons with Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. But his impact stretched well beyond stats; he helped turn Heat games into events, and did so while not impeding Wade’s rapid rise to superstardom.

There were some well-documented troubles along the way. When Stan Van Gundy stepped down as coach in 2005, part of that decision was believed to be related to his relationship with O’Neal. And when the Heat traded him to Phoenix in 2008, O’Neal blasted Miami’s personnel – including guard Chris Quinn – along with the team’s medical and athletic training staffs.

Quinn is now an assistant coach with the Heat. And O’Neal’s jersey banner will sway next to one for Ron Culp, a revered figure in Heat history and the team’s athletic trainer from 1988 through 2008.

“It was not personal,” Riley said. “Shaq was impeccable with his word. He came down here and said `We’re gonna win a title, Coach.’ And we won a title. … No hard feelings, at all. I’m an Irishman and I forgive.”

So with that, all is forgotten, all is forgiven.

“Next to Dwyane, I’d have to say he’s probably the best teammate I ever had,” Heat captain Udonis Haslem said. “Just showing us how this NBA life works, how you can have fun and enjoy it but stay out of trouble and win games. He put so much confidence in his teammates. He really was the great Shaquille O’Neal.”

Haslem was a second-year undrafted player when O’Neal arrived, and remembers hearing that an undersized power forward like himself wasn’t the sort that would work well with a still-dominant center.

O’Neal let Haslem know right away to ignore such talk. Haslem wound up playing a huge role in Miami’s 2006 NBA Finals victory, and is still so revered by O’Neal that he wants him to join in the ovations from the crowd on Thursday night.

“The first thing when I got with Big Fella, he said, `I’ve been watching you, I like your work ethic and I can win with you,”‘ Haslem said. “A player like that has confidence in you, how could I ever question that?”

LeBron James drives through Wizards defense, dunks on

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Even when they are getting beat — and the Cavaliers have some issues to shake out before the playoffs start — there are a couple times a game that LeBron James makes a play that is stunning.

For example, splitting defenders out high with his dribble then going in and dunking on Ian Mahinmi. LeBron did that Saturday night.

The Wizards beat the Cavaliers and Cleveland has issues that are bigger than LeBron’s goggles (Boston can tie Cleveland for the top spot in the East with a win Sunday), but never doubt LeBron’s explosiveness.

Raptors’ Patrick Patterson taunts Mavericks’ bench after three, Rick Carlisle talks back (VIDEO)

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Toronto handed Dallas its 41st loss of the season Saturday night, which means with the Mavericks’ next loss their streak of winning seasons will come to an end at 16.

Toronto was talking a lot of smack while getting that win. At least Patrick Patterson was when he was draining corner threes in front of the Mavericks’ bench. On the one above, Patterson chirps and coach Rick Carlisle goes back at him verbally. They both pick up technical fouls for their trouble.

I’m surprised this doesn’t happen a little more during games, there’s a lot of talking down there

Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan lead Raptors past Mavericks, 94-86

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DALLAS (AP) — DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka scored 18 points apiece, and the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff berth after their fifth straight victory, 94-86 over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.

The Raptors, who came back from 15-point deficits to win each of their last two games, made it a little easier on themselves Saturday. Toronto scored the game’s first seven points and never trailed in dealing the Mavericks’ playoff hopes a damaging blow.

Harrison Barnes scored 23 points for Dallas, which missed 18 of its first 22 3-pointers and finished just 7 of 28 from behind the arc.

Patrick Patterson added 14 points for Toronto, including a perfect 4 for 4 on 3-pointers.

The Mavericks fell four games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.

Toronto led by as many as 16 points in the first half and by 15 early in the fourth quarter before a 10-0 Dallas run made things more interesting.

Dorian Finney-Smith‘s free throws with 7:57 to go brought the Mavs within 79-74, the closest they had been since 7-2 early in the game. But Ibaka made consecutive jumpers to restore a nine-point lead, and Dallas got no closer than six after that.

The Raptors had their biggest lead at 42-26 in the first half. Barnes scored Dallas’ last 11 points of the half to help cut into the lead, but Toronto led 54-44 at the break.

J.J. Barea‘s long 3 at the third-quarter buzzer again brought Dallas within 10 at 74-64.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Coach Dwane Casey said he was hopeful that guard Kyle Lowry would return from wrist surgery before the end of the regular season. “I know he’s doing a lot of conditioning, a lot of work to keep his body in shape,” Casey said. “Just let him rehab, let him do his thing and trust our medical people.” Lowry has missed the last 16 games. . Toronto was also without starting forward DeMarre Carroll due to a sore lower back. P.J. Tucker started in his place.

Mavericks: Seth Curry with 11 points and Yogi Ferrell with 10 were the only other Mavs in double figures. . Nerlens Noel started his second game in a row at center for the Mavericks, who have gone to a big lineup. They’ve moved Dirk Nowitzki to power forward, Barnes to small forward and Curry to point guard.

STREAK IN JEOPARDY

The Mavericks took their 41st loss of the season. Their next loss will end the NBA’s second-longest streak of .500 or better seasons – currently at 16 seasons. Their last sub-.500 season was 1999-00, when they finished 40-42 and Mark Cuban became owner of the team in January 2000.

San Antonio has the longest streak of .500 or better seasons with 20, including this season.

ABOUT THURSDAY NIGHT

Cuban couldn’t resist giving his opinion on Barea’s ejection from the Mavericks’ victory over the Clippers on Thursday night. Barea was called for a flagrant 2 foul for pushing Blake Griffin, a player with a 10-inch height advantage over Barea.

“I just feel bad for Blake,” Cuban said. “It’s hard to come back from a knockout like that. We sent flowers to his family, condolences. I can only guess that he’s going to be drinking through a straw for a long, long time.”

 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.