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NBA Preview from The Sports Network



Wednesday, November 3rd (All times eastern)

Miami Heat (0-0) at New Jersey Nets (0-0), 8:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Miami Heat might not be able to unveil their biggest acquisition in franchise history this evening when they open the 2004-05 campaign against the New Jersey Nets at the Meadowlands.

Miami made waves this offseason when they acquired possibly the most dominant player in the NBA in Shaquille O'Neal, who was wrestled away from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for forwards Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler along with a first-round draft pick.

However, Miami may not be able to show off its new big man Wednesday, as O'Neal continues to be bothered by a lingering hamstring injury that forced him to miss three exhibition games. He has said he will be ready to go tonight, though.

O'Neal will be a terrific compliment to 22-year-old point guard Dwyane Wade, who had a sensational rookie season for Miami. The Heat's new center has had experience in teaming with star guards. In O'Neal's first four seasons in the NBA he formed a dynamic duo with Anfernee Hardaway in Orlando.

Wade, who was selected in the first round (fifth overall) of the 2003 NBA Draft out of Marquette by the Heat, and played in 61 games for Miami last season and averaged 16.2 points, four rebounds and 4.5 assists.

Wade's arrival was a big reason behind Miami getting back to the postseason after a 42-win campaign. However the Heat, who opened last season with seven straight losses, lost in six games to the Indiana Pacers in last year's Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Heat are 8-8 in Opening Night games and tonight's tilt marks the fourth time Miami has began the season on the road. If the Heat wins tonight´┐Żs contest, it will mark the first time Miami has won in an Opening Night road contest. The last time Miami won on Opening Night overall was on in 2001 with a 97-92 win over Toronto.

New Jersey, meanwhile, begins its first full season under head coach Lawrence Frank with far less expectations than in the past two seasons.

For the first time since star guard Jason Kidd came to town there are plenty of questions surrounding the Nets. So much so that it is believed that Kidd wants out of town and could ask for a trade once he returns from knee surgery sometime in December.

Gone are New Jersey mainstays Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles, as the former was dealt to the Denver Nuggets, while the latter was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers with an array of draft picks coming in return from both deals.

General manager Rod Thorn, who had his contract extended before the start of the season, has done little to replace those two reliable veterans. Eric Williams is expected to fill Martin's shoes, while Ron Mercer should get the nod in Kittles' absence.

One thing the team did do this offseason was to lock up young forward Richard Jefferson with a multi-year extension. The 24-year-old Jefferson started all 82 regular-season games last season for the Nets and averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest.

New Jersey also welcomes back Alonzo Mourning, who is on the active roster less than a year after receiving a kidney transplant. The former All-Star will probably back up Jason Collins at center.

After two straight Eastern Conference Finals, the Nets got off to a slow start in the 2003-04 campaign and fired head coach Byron Scott, despite a 22-20 mark, in January. The 33- year-old Frank then took over and set a record for major professional sports in North America by starting his coaching career 13-0.

Frank eventually guided the Nets to their third straight Atlantic Division title and a sweep over the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, before falling in seven games to the eventual NBA champion Detroit Pistons in the conference semifinals.

Kidd's knee was a problem down the stretch and cost the team in the playoffs. How he returns from the knee will decide how far the Nets go. However, he is unhappy with the way the team handled this offseason and could make things very uncomfortable in New Jersey this season.

The Nets are 13-15 all-time on Opening Night with an 8-8 mark when they open the season at home.

New Jersey could have an advantage tonight, as the home team in this series has won seven straight and 10 of the last 12 matchups. However, the Heat took three of the five meetings last season. Miami has also lost six straight and seven of its last eight in the Garden State.

These teams are no longer division rivals, as Miami has moved to the new Southeast Division. The Heat are the likely favorites in the weak division, which also includes Orlando, Atlanta, Washington and expansion Charlotte.

11/03 10:08:08 ET


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