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NBA Preview from The Sports Network



Thursday, March 17th (All times eastern)

Los Angeles Lakers (32-31) at Miami Heat (50-16), 8 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Former teammates Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant will square off for the second and final time in the 2004-05 regular season, as the red-hot Miami Heat welcome the Los Angeles Lakers to AmericanAirlines Arena.

In the first meeting between the clubs, Eddie Jones and Dwyane Wade each scored four points in overtime to lift the Heat past the Lakers, 104-102, in the much-anticipated Christmas Day showdown at Staples Center. The game marked the return of O'Neal to Los Angeles, where he spent eight seasons with the Lakers and captured three NBA championships alongside Bryant. However, despite that success, the two players were unable to establish a long-lasting relationship and O'Neal was eventually traded to the Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler and a first-round draft pick in July.

O'Neal fouled out with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter, and finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, while Wade collected 29 points and 10 assists in the Heat's victory on December 25th. With the victory, Miami snapped a three-game series losing streak.

Bryant poured in 42 points and also handed out six assists for the Lakers, while Odom contributed 24 points and 11 boards in the Christmas Day loss to Miami.

The Heat come into tonight's game on a 10-game winning streak. Earlier this season, Miami won a franchise-best 14 games from December 6, 2004 to January 1, 2005.

The All-Star Wade came through once again in the clutch for the Heat, as he drained a long jumper at the buzzer to give Miami a 98-96 victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Wade's game-winning shot gave the Heat their 50th victory of the campaign and clinched the season's first NBA playoff spot.

Wade finished with a team-high 24 points and five assists in 39 minutes of action against New York, while Shaq contributed 23 points and seven rebounds in the victory. The 6-4 Wade was 8-of-15 from the field and 7-for-8 from the foul line against the Knicks.

Miami, which is 36-6 when it allows under 100 points this season, has scored at least 100 points in 18 of its last 23 games.

With Tuesday's victory, Miami reached the 50-win plateau for just the fifth time in franchise history. The Heat won a franchise-best 61 games in 1996-97, while they won 55 in 1997-98, 52 in 1999-2000 and 50 in 2000-01.

Wade leads the Heat in scoring (23.8 ppg) and assists (7.0 apg) and is also averaging a respectable 5.2 rebounds per game. He has registered double-digits in scoring in 61 of the 62 games he has played in. The Marquette product has scored 20 or more points in 46 of those contests and has played 30 or more minutes in 58 games.

O'Neal has scored in double-digits in eight straight games. He is second on the Heat in scoring (22.5 ppg) and leads the club in rebounding (10.2 rpg). The All-Star center has registered 36 double-doubles this season.

The Heat, who are 6-1 in Thursday games this season, are an impressive 28-5 at home this season. Miami has won 13 in a row as the host, as its last loss in front of its home crowd was on January 21st to the Indiana Pacers.

The Lakers play the fifth of a season-high six-game road trip. LA, which is 2-2 on the current swing, is battling the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

On Tuesday, Allen Iverson scored 36 points with nine assists and three steals to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 108-91 victory over the Lakers at the Wachovia Center. Bryant scored 20 to lead the Lakers, who have lost three of their last five games.

The Lakers have allowed over 100 points in 14 of their last 20 games.

Bryant has scored 20 or more points in 12 of LA's 13 games since the All-Star break. He is averaging 31.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists in his last 10 contests for the Lakers, who are 6-7 since February 20th's All-Star Game.

Los Angeles is just 11-19 on the road this season. It has lost seven of its last 10 as the visitor.

The road team has won seven of the last 10 meetings in this series. Los Angeles has won four of six and eight of its last 12 meetings with the Heat. The Lakers have won four of five and five of their last eight at Miami.

03/17 10:06:52 ET


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