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O'Neal, Haslem power Heat past Nets

Mar 16, 2007 - 5:18 AM EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Udonis Haslem and Shaquille O'Neal proved to be too much for the New Jersey Nets' frontline.

Haslem collected 21 points and 12 rebounds and O'Neal scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half as the Miami Heat extended their season-high winning streak to eight games with a 93-86 victory over the Nets.

After winning all six games on their homestand, the Heat are one-half game behind first-place Washington in the Southeast Division. Miami also is just 2 1/2 games behind Chicago for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

"I'm going to take it," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "There are teams in front of us that are winning just as much as we are. In order for us to catch anybody, we have to keep winning. That's all there is to it."

The Heat rapidly are climbing toward one of the top four seeds in the East and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Much of their success can be attributed to their interior play on both ends of the court.

"We're playing good, consistent basketball right now, especially on the defensive end," O'Neal said. "We just wanted to come in here and get a win and continue to make our playoff push. We've got 18 games left and we want to be 10, 15 games over .500 and have that number two, three or four spot going into the playoffs."

On Thursday, they scored 44 points in the paint led by Haslem and O'Neal, who combined to shoot 15-of-23 from the field. Reserve center Alonzo Mourning also played well, scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in just 17 minutes.

"We were two down at the half with (O'Neal) sitting on the bench, playing only five minutes," Riley said. "We were able to do some other things, plus Alonzo plays pretty big for us when he comes in as a backup. When he came out in the third quarter, he was just committed that he was going to get to the basket. They didn't double him, and we got that post game going."

Improving to 9-2 without superstar Dwyane Wade, who will be out at least another month with a dislocated shoulder, Miami has relied on the 7-1 O'Neal. The legendary center put the Heat on his back once again Thursday, using his trademark power to dominate after halftime.

"We've got a lot of veteran guys," Riley said. "Dwyane is a great, great player and there is no doubt that he's a huge part of our offense. Defensively, we are ready and the team has really responded. There has been somebody else every night that has stepped up. Udonis had a huge evening for us. That's how it's been."

Richard Jefferson continued to play well in his return from ankle surgery, scoring 20 points for the Nets (30-36), who fell into a four-way tie with Indiana (29-35), New York (29-35) and Orlando (30-36) for the final two playoff spots in the East.

Jason Kidd added nine points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists.

"I dont know how many games we've got left, but we've got to learn it's going to come down to the last game," Kidd said. "But we feel very confident where we're at, and if we keep putting out the effort we have these last three games, we'll win more than we lose."

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