Dampier Has No Trouble Playing Second Fiddle

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff
Tuesday, June 13, 2006

MIAMI, June 12 -- The revenge of Erick Dampier has begun. Before the NBA Finals, Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal surprisingly had no disparaging comments for his personal punching bag for insults, saying that he would keep things "classy." With the Heat down, 2-0, to the Dallas Mavericks in this best-of-seven series after a 99-85 loss in which O'Neal scored a playoff career-low five points, what can the Big Aristotle say?

Dampier and Mavericks starting center DeSagana Diop have bottled up O'Neal like never before in the Finals -- a time when O'Neal has historically been his most dominant. He entered these Finals -- his sixth -- averaging 32.6 points and 13.7 rebounds in 24 games, but he has averaged just 11 points (on just 16 shots) and 6.5 rebounds per game in the first two games.

The Mavericks have double- and triple-teamed O'Neal each time he's touched the ball and disguised where the help is coming from, leaving the Heat offense discombobulated. "Yes, we need to get him the basketball," Heat Coach Pat Riley said of O'Neal. "They doubled him every single time he caught the ball. He made the pass that he was supposed to make, and the other times they would front him. Anytime he tried to throw the ball over the top, we didn't get out of it what we want. So, obviously, we have to go to work on that."

The feud between Dampier and O'Neal began two years ago when Dampier was in Golden State and proclaimed himself the "second-best center" in the league. Since then, O'Neal has called Dampier "soft." He said Dampier's game was more suited for the WNBA. He responded to a question about Dampier by saying: "Who? Ericka?" When he struggled in the first two games against the Washington Wizards last season, O'Neal said, "I feel like Erick Dampier, and that stinks."

Dampier was reduced to being the second-best center on his own roster after Dallas Coach Avery Johnson benched him in favor of Diop in midseason -- and he wasn't utilized at all in the previous series against Phoenix. But Dampier was acquired by Dallas in the summer of 2004 to slow down O'Neal and he has been effective in this series. Since Dampier joined the Mavericks, O'Neal and the Heat are 0-6 against Dallas.

Dampier outperformed O'Neal with six points and 13 rebounds in Game 2, but refused to continue the war of words. "Obviously we made some comments back and forth last year. I think that's behind us now," Dampier said. "So, you know, I think the most important thing is just for me to go out there and play and help the team win."

But Dampier was able to slip in a minor jab at O'Neal, who has complained of not getting enough touches in this series. "In Game 1, they said he didn't get a lot of touches. You went back and watched the game, I think he got 30 touches and 12 times he passed it out," Dampier said. "How many more times does he want to touch the ball?"

Haslem Expects to Play

In a startling sign of just how badly this series has started for the Heat, forward Udonis Haslem went in to deliver a hard foul on Mavericks point guard Jason Terry in the second quarter of Game 2 and wound up in the most pain when he collided with Terry and landed on his left shoulder. Haslem sat the entire second half, with an ice pack wrapped around his shoulder. He said he will be back for Game 3 Tuesday night in Miami. "There's no doubt I'll be playing. I mean, this is the Finals," Haslem said. "It's all right. I'll go home, work on it, and I'll be ready for the next game."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company