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Shaq, Heat face Magic at Forum

JAMAL THALJI
Published October 15, 2004

TAMPA - There's so much to see in tonight's Heat-Magic preseason game at the St. Pete Times Forum.

There's rebuilt Orlando, with 10 new players and a new starting five: guards Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, forwards Dwight Howard and Grant Hill and center Kelvin Cato.

There's Hill, attempting another comeback after four surgeries to his left ankle and 21 months off the court. And there's Howard, the No. 1 pick in the draft and 18-year-old centerpiece of the new Magic.

Well, that's it for the guest stars.

Because tonight belongs to Shaquille O'Neal.

It will be Shaq's first game in a Florida uniform since leaving the Magic in 1996. He won three NBA titles with the Lakers, but after a public breakup with the franchise and former teammate Kobe Bryant, was traded to the Heat in a multiplayer deal on July 14.

O'Neal's presence alone makes Miami an Eastern Conference contender, and the 13-year veteran said he can't wait to see what his new team can do. "It's not only a new season and new home, but new players, too," he said. "They've got a couple of guys on this team I didn't even know they had.

"You don't know what your arsenal is until you get that arsenal in front of you. I'm going to be using that arsenal at its best. I'm very excited. I haven't been this excited in a long time."

Two years ago O'Neal was embroiled in a controversy involving the Forum. O'Neal said a promoter never had permission to use his name in conjunction with a 2002 charity dinner with the governor, basketball clinic and celebrity game in Tampa. He was hospitalized in Orlando that weekend and didn't show for any of the events. The promoter claimed he paid O'Neal $50,000 to attend.

Yao overcomes anxiety in China preseason game

SHANGHAI, China - Playing in his hometown before an adoring crowd that chanted his name, Yao Ming had the jitters. He missed his first two shots and allowed Brad Miller to score against him repeatedly early in the first quarter.

Soon, though, he settled down, finishing with 14 points to lead the Rockets to an 88-86 win over the Kings in the first preseason game played in China.

"I didn't play a great game. I was really nervous in the first half. It was almost like the feeling I had playing in my first NBA game," Yao said. "I felt suffocated and I just wanted to find an exit, but I just tried to focus on technical details and then things settled down."

In addition to leading the Rockets in scoring, Yao played 27 minutes and had seven rebounds. The teams play again Sunday in Beijing.

Yao said another factor for his slow start may have been the heavy schedule of appearances ranging from television to a visit to his old primary school to promote reading.

"Those outside activities were very important to me, and to the kids and others, but it did make it a little harder for me," Yao said.

Liu Wei of Sacramento, a teammate of Yao's on China's national team, entered the game a minute and a half into the second quarter and got on the board three minutes later with a jump shot.

Yao had said he wouldn't cut Liu any slack and fouled him with two minutes left in the half. On the ground, Liu looked up at Yao for a helping hand, but Yao remained where he was, hands on his hips.

NO 3-POINT CHANGES: The proposed developmental league experiment in which all field goals will count as two points until the final five minutes of regulation and overtime is not under consideration in the NBA, league vice president Stu Jackson said. The NBDL is expected to approve the experiment for the season that begins Nov. 19.

NETS ALMOST BLANKED: In their 92-84 loss to the Knicks at Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the Nets didn't score a fourth-quarter point until rookie guard Alex Scales hit a free throw with 3:11 left, and didn't make a basket until rookie forward Darius Rice hit an 18-foot jump shot with 1:28 to go.

Information from Times wires was used in the report.

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