MATCHUP TO WATCH CENTERS

DeSagana Diop vs. Shaquille O'Neal

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Thursday, June 8, 2006

O'Neal played determined, focused basketball in the past two series against New Jersey and Detroit, avoiding foul trouble and impacting the game on both ends of the floor. His forceful resurgence following a ho-hum regular season -- by Shaq standards -- has been the difference for the Heat in the playoffs. Playing to enhance his legacy, O'Neal will play with an extra sense of urgency because he may never get this close again. He loves to claim that he is the last of a dying breed -- a dominant, back-to-the-basket center -- and that will be glaringly obvious as he bangs up against Dallas's Diop and Erick Dampier, whose sole purpose is to provide a roadblock for the Big Diesel. Diop was superb against Tim Duncan during overtime of Game 7 in the conference semifinals. Diop and Dampier won't be asked to score too much, but Dallas Coach Avery Johnson also could throw in jump shooter Keith Van Horn to force O'Neal to step out on defense.

ADVANTAGE: HEAT


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