Tonight's game in Miami will give the Wizards their first crack at the team that swept them out of the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring. It's not a bad time to catch the Heat (10-10), which has dropped four consecutive games, including a 100-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

Center Shaquille O'Neal, who has missed 18 straight games with a badly sprained right ankle, could return against the Wizards, who have dropped 12 consecutive games to the Heat, including last spring's playoffs.

Former Georgetown star Alonzo Mourning has done a solid job of filling in for O'Neal and is averaging 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game, which ranks second in the NBA behind Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert. However, the Heat clearly miss O'Neal and, like the Wizards, have experienced a few headaches while blending new faces into its rotation. Miami lost Damon Jones and Eddie Jones off of last season's Eastern Conference runner-up and added Jason Williams, Antoine Walker and James Posey.

"We can play the game better whether Shaq's there or not," Miami Coach Stan Van Gundy said following Friday's loss to Denver.

Miami will make its first appearance at MCI Center on Dec. 30.


For the second consecutive night, the Wizards will wear uniforms styled after the 1972-73 Baltimore Bullets while Miami will be wearing uniforms of the 1971-72 Miami Floridians. Last night, the Chicago Bulls wore uniforms of the 1946-50 Chicago Stags.