91 - 98 Final
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O'Neal leads Heat over Yao, Rockets

Nov 24, 2007 - 5:07 AM MIAMI (Ticker) -- All Shaquille O'Neal needed to boost his game was the arrival of rival center Yao Ming.

O'Neal collected season highs with 26 points and 14 rebounds and Dwyane Wade added a season-best 31 points as the Miami Heat handed Yao and the Houston Rockets their sixth straight loss, 98-91, on Friday night.

In his customary role, Wade netted 14 of his points in the final quarter for the Heat, who secured their first home win of the season.

A 14-time All-Star and three-time Finals MVP, O'Neal has been one of the most dominant players in the NBA during his impressive career. The 7-1, 330-pounder regularly dwarfs all his opponents physically - including the 7-5 Yao .

"When we play against them, he really plays well the whole game," Yao said. "I felt like he was playing the same as my rookie year. He sent a very strong message and dominated the game."

But this season, O'Neal has averaged a pedestrian 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds entering Friday's play - fueling speculation that the 35-year-old's skills have eroded.

"I think Shaq has been affected like I have and like the team has by our overall poor play as a team," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "He's taken to heart that the team is not doing well and now we can't wait until January."

Meanwhile, most observers have dubbed Yao - who has averaged 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds entering the contest - the game's top center. The All-Star big man collected 20 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in the waning seconds on Friday night.

"He's a great player," O'Neal said. "I think what makes him so great is his skills and his height. Most of the time he is just going to turn around and shoot over anybody, including me. He's a great player and a great competitor, I always enjoy going up against him."

But it was O'Neal who looked energized in this one, showing an aggressiveness that has been missing this campaign. His previous best scoring output was 25 against the Phoenix Suns on November 9.

"The ball has the energy," O'Neal said. "The ball makes me a basketball player. Without the ball, I'm not a basketball player."

O'Neal established his presence early, scoring eight points in a 15-4 run to start the game. He collected 14 points and six rebounds by halftime and netted 10 more in the third.

"He played strong, he played great," Riley said. "At the beginning of the game, he has a lot of energy and we get him off to a pretty good start."

But in the final period, Miami was led by Wade, who shot 5-of-9 to hold off Houston, which trailed by seven entering the final 12 minutes.

"It was about time," said Wade, whose previous high this season was 23. "Coach always puts me in a position to have the ball late in games, and my teammates have an unbelievable amount of confidence in me to help us win the game. I was happy I could come through for the guys tonight."

Luis Scola collected 20 points and nine rebounds off the bench and Tracy McGrady netted 19 for the Rockets.

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