Heat 103, Wizards 93
-- Near the end of the third quarter of the Miami Heat's 103-93 defeat of the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, Shaquille O'Neal leaned against the scorer's table in AmericanAirlines Arena and looked like a proud papa, admiring what was going on on the court.
He let a sly grin crack his face after Heat point guard Dwyane Wade did a cross-over dribble and sank a jumper over Anthony Peeler before falling on his back. O'Neal chuckled, then sat on the floor after Heat reserve Damon Jones made a three-pointer and strutted downcourt. And O'Neal's eyes nearly popped from his head when he saw Heat forward Udonis Haslem catch and dunk an alley-oop pass from Jones on the next possession.
O'Neal wanted to get in the game, but there was no reason for him to stop the flow; not with the Heat shooting 15 of 20 in the third quarter and taking a 24-point lead into the final period. The Heat did what it has been doing all season -- finding ways to win while Big Daddy mends from a sore hamstring -- and improved to 4-0 for the first time in franchise history.
"Everybody thinks they'll struggle when Shaq's out, but they're doing a lot better. They're attacking," said Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas. "It's tough to play them when he's out."
The Heat went on its biggest runs with O'Neal on the bench -- including a 27-15 surge to end the third quarter -- but it's also difficult to play the Heat with O'Neal on the court drawing the defense toward him and opening opportunities for his teammates. Arenas figured out his impact on the defensive end, too, landing on his backside after O'Neal blocked his third shot of the game in the fourth quarter.
After two games against the Heat, it has become obvious which team should be considered the favorite in the Southeast Division. The Wizards stayed even with the Heat for the first 46 minutes they played. Since then, it hasn't been close. On Tuesday, the Heat won its sixth consecutive game against the Wizards and separated itself in a fashion that dwarfed the 16-4 run it used to close out a 118-106 win at MCI Center on Saturday.
The Heat shot 51.9 percent and led by 29 points in the rematch. It also scored 52 points in the lane for the second game in a row. The Wizards were deficient in all facets of the game -- they shot 25 percent in the first quarter and turned over the ball 20 times, which led to 21 points for the Heat.
"We just didn't play well," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We again allowed 50-some-odd percent shooting and turned the ball over 20 times, which is not the sign of a very good team right now.
"We're still trying to improve in the areas where we said we wanted to improve and it hasn't shown. We said we were going to take care of the basketball and we haven't done it. We said we were going to play better defense and we haven't done it for the most part."
Wade led four Heat players in double figures with 22 points. O'Neal scored a season-high 20 points, with nine rebounds. "When you have Shaquille O'Neal on the other side, it makes things hard to stop," said Wizards center Brendan Haywood, who returned from a three-game suspension to score just four points with seven rebounds, battling foul trouble and O'Neal. "Sometimes, just his presence is enough to allow guys like Dwyane Wade to get easy lanes to drive."
The Wizards failed to score at least 100 for the first time in four games. Arenas (bruised left heel) led the Wizards with 20 points but had six turnovers (giving him 20 this season). Antawn Jamison had 14 points and Larry Hughes scored seven on 3-of-15 shooting.
"Our offense wasn't there," Jamison said. "When you're missing shots and missing shots, eventually they get long rebounds and they get numbers on the break. Not playing well offensively really carried over to the way we played defense there in the third quarter."
Wizards reserve forward Jared Jeffries had his nose broken by an elbow from Michael Doleac and left with nine minutes remaining.