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O'Neal dominates as Heat top Timberwolves

Mar 10, 2007 - 6:22 AM MIAMI (Ticker) -- With Dwyane Wade still sidelined, fellow All-Star Shaquille O'Neal has the Miami Heat moving up the Eastern Conference standings in a flash.

Playing dominant once again, O'Neal scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Heat tied a season high with their fifth straight win, a 105-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Jason Williams collected 20 points and six assists and Eddie Jones had 15 points and a season-high 11 rebounds for Miami, which has won 11 straight home games.

"We are just playing pretty good basketball right now," O'Neal said. "We just have to keep it up. We have to stay balanced and keep our focus."

Expected to sink after Wade dislocated his shoulder on February 21, the Heat (32-29) have gone in the other direction, posting a 6-2 record with the reigning NBA Finals MVP sidelined indefinitely.

"Coach (Pat Riley) asked me to step my game up and take most of the scoring load," O'Neal said. "The last year and a half, two years, I've been the second option, which has been fine. One first option is down, so now it's time for me to step up."

Led by O'Neal, Miami has vaulted to sixth place in the Eastern Conference, just six games behind first-place Detroit (37-22), which faces Denver later Friday night.

O'Neal had one of his most complete performances of the season on Wednesday, collecting 24 points, nine rebounds and a season-high eight assists in a 103-70 rout of Chicago. Two nights later, it was more of the same for the 7-1 goliath, who shot 13-of-16 from the field.

"I know what I have to do. I know what I can do," O'Neal said. "I know that I'm on a mission. I know the older I get I may lose a step or two, but it's all up in the (medulla oblongata). I've got a lot up there, a lot of experience."

Timberwolves superstar Kevin Garnett agreed.

"The Shaq of old? What's the difference?," Garnett said. "He was aggressive. He was explosive. He was dominant. We should have helped Mark (Blount) a little more in the post. (Shaq) caught the ball in places he was comfortable, and we never took him out of his comfort zone."

Drawing multiple defenders, O'Neal affected the game without touching the ball, opening up the court for shooters. Williams benefited, nailing 9-of-13 shots from the field - including 2-of-4 from the arc - for the Heat, who shot 58 percent (42-of-72).

"We were just trying to come off picks," Williams said. "They weren't showing very well and the big guys kept taking a couple steps back, so I just have to take those shots."

Garnett had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who suffered their fourth loss in their last five games.

"The last couple of games I don't know what we were doing," Garnett said. "We are being aggressive, as aggressive as any other team but we are not getting the calls. We are going to the basket. I don't know what the hell is going on. I hope the league looks at some of these games and figures something out."

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