Who is Michael Doleac?
MIAMI - Let's see . . . you hear the term, "Miami Heat." And the first name you think of these days is not Michael Doleac.
But that's who was starting at center against the Celtics last night. Shaquille O'Neal was hors de combat with a contusion on his left calf.
"Well, that ruins a day and a half of preparation as far as I'm concerned," joked Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
No Shaq meant Rivers had a new worry; namely, making sure his team didn't get giddy, or cocky, or otherwise mentally unprepared for the rest of the 19-7 Heat, who had won eight straight.
"It worries me more," Rivers said.
The 6-foot-11-inch Doleac is a shooter of note, which means the Celtics were anticipating a bunch of pick-and-pop situations. Backup Christian Laettner was going to pose the same problem.
"One very good thing," said Rivers. "If someone drives, our '5' can pick him up. You couldn't do that with Shaq."
It was Shaq's first DNP of the season.
Sins or wins?
The Heat entered last night's game with a 10-3 home record. A lot of people wonder why it wasn't 13-0.
"People say, 'Who do you have to stop first? Shaq or [Dwyane] Wade?"' said Rivers. "I say, 'South Beach.' "
Forget Los Angeles. Miami is the reigning Sin City stop on the contemporary NBA tour. Players come down here and suddenly there are a few things on their mind other than basketball.
"I love looking at the box scores of teams that have been in town the night before the game," says one local media observer. "You'll see star players with 4 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist."
And that's after one night. The Celtics had two.
Rivers knows what's what, not being all that far removed from his playing days. He's very well aware of the South Beach effect, but at the same time, he didn't sign on to be a baby-sitter, either. He knows boys will be boys, but he was counting on his to exercise some common sense.
"We arrived here from Cleveland about 2 o'clock, Saturday night/Sunday morning," he said. "I said, 'Boys, you're on your own.' I gave them off on Sunday. But we had a very good, hard practice on Monday, and it was hard because of the circumstances. I was very pleased with what I saw." Rivers said problems can ensue any time a cold-weather team visits a warm-weather place in the winter.
"I played most of my career in what you'd have to call warm-weather places [Atlanta and San Antonio, with a New York thrown in], and it really is different," he said. "You just feel more like being outside and doing stuff. I remember once when I was with Atlanta and we were in LA. Scott Hastings got sunburned, and he couldn't even put his uniform on because it was irritating him. I thought [coach] Mike Fratello was going to lose his mind."
Rivers professed great admiration for fellow Marquette product Wade, who, he said, figured out quickly how best to play with O'Neal. "He has taken 368 shots, and only nine of them are 3-pointers," Rivers said. "I've always believed the best way to take advantage of having Shaq on your side is to attack the basket. If you take it to the basket, and Shaq's man helps, it's a dunk for Shaq." . . . As Rivers addressed the media during his pregame session, Gary Payton was soaking in the whirlpool, not for the first time yesterday. "It's scary," Rivers said. "Gary is 37." Payton, who probably has been Boston's early MVP, has been in all 23 games and has played more minutes than Rivers would have liked. "He's telling me he's had a bad back for a long time," Rivers said. "I didn't know anything about it. Did you know he has a higher percentage of games played than even John Stockton? Nobody ever talks about that."
Not looking ahead
The local papers are full of copy concerning the much-anticipated Christmas Day clash the Heat have with the Lakers. But Miami coach Stan Van Gundy was equally concerned with last night's game and Thursday night's contest. That's only a little stopover in Sacramento. "I'm tired of answering questions about Saturday," Van Gundy said with a growl. "It could be one of those relationship shows on afternoon TV. Shaq and Kobe. It's sad. It should be about the basketball. Tonight's a big game. Thursday's a huge game. Saturday's game is hype." . . . Rivers certainly likes what he's seen of his team of late. "I like the way we are getting up and down the floor and sharing the ball," he said. "We play hard. We compete. Our Achilles' heel is rebounding." . . . With their average of 100 points per game entering last night, the Heat are scoring at a higher rate than any Miami team since the 1994-95 edition, a 32-50 squad coached by Kevin Loughery . . . Van Gundy credits most of the improved scoring to the presence of Shaq. "This isn't taking anything away from the other guys, because the other guys are playing well," the coach told the Miami Herald. "But it's basically Shaq, because it's much easier to create good shots. Getting a good shot is not a chore." . . . Eddie Jones, the 11-year veteran from Temple, is the subject of nonstop trade rumors . . . Guard Damon Jones is on team No. 9 in his seven-year odyssey. The Celtics were one of those stops, back in the '98-99 season.