Heat Edge Kings to Win 10th Straight Game

Thursday, December 23rd 2004, 7:14 am
By: News On 6

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Damon Jones hit a 3-pointer with 23.4 seconds left, and Shaquille O'Neal blocked Mike Bibby's layup in the closing seconds to help the Heat beat the Sacramento Kings 109-107 on Thursday night for their 10th straight victory.

Jones' dramatic shot and O'Neal's defense capped a late rally in Miami's final warmup before Shaq's much-hyped return to face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Saturday.

Though everybody else seemed to be looking down the road to Los Angeles, O'Neal and the Miami Heat did something remarkable on the other stop on their California trip. Miami became just the third Eastern Conference team to win in Sacramento in 53 games over the last four seasons _ not a bad way to head into the most-anticipated regular-season game in recent memory.

But even after getting 25 points and 10 rebounds in a gritty victory over the Kings, O'Neal mostly faced questions about his return to Staples Center.

``We knew we had two tough games on this road trip, and we didn't want to overlook this game going into Saturday's game,'' O'Neal said. ``We kind of got off to a bad start, but we've been a pretty good second-half team the last 13, 14 games. We just played good team ball, just hung in there and played good defense.''

In the only other games Thursday night, NBA-leading Phoenix held off Memphis 109-102 for its 10th straight victory, and San Antonio beat Minnesota 96-82.

O'Neal gave Sacramento a chance to steal the win by missing two free throws with 10.9 seconds left. But he made up for it in his own inimitable style, blocking Bibby's ensuing drive to the hoop with about two seconds to play.

Chris Webber's 3-pointer at the buzzer was well short, and Miami extended its longest winning streak since late in the 1997-98 season.

Webber scored 26 points and Bibby had 21 points and eight assists for the short-handed Kings, who nearly beat the East's best team despite playing largely without three of their top six players.

``We've had our share of games like this,'' Webber said. ``I'm tired of losing them. They've got a good team, but it still hurts to lose like that.''

Sixth man Bobby Jackson is sidelined with torn ligaments in his wrist. The Kings also had to make do with limited contributions from two starters: Brad Miller received a deep cut on his shin and played sparingly, and Doug Christie was ejected in the third quarter.

Sacramento led 101-89 with 5:23 to play, but Miami tied it on Eddie Jones' free throw with 1:46 left. The Heat went ahead 106-104 on Damon Jones' free throws with 51.1 seconds left, but Peja Stojakovic hit a difficult 3-pointer from in front of the Kings' bench.

``Our guys played their tails off the whole game,'' Kings coach Rick Adelman said. ``I don't know how many shots we had, but they were wide open from different people, and we couldn't get one to go down. It was just a tough loss.''

Dwyane Wade had 22 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Heat, but was limited in the second half by the defense of Sacramento journeyman Maurice Evans, who also had season highs of 12 points and eight rebounds playing in Christie's place.

Damon Jones had 18 points and hit four 3-pointers, while Eddie Jones finished with 21 points and three 3-pointers _ and O'Neal provided one last dramatic flourish.

Miller missed much of the first half after a collision with Wade under the basket in the first quarter. Miller returned in the second half after getting 15 stitches to close a gash down to the bone on his right shin _ but he also spent most of the game in foul trouble, playing just 20 minutes.

The Kings then lost Christie when he was ejected for his second technical foul after a midcourt collision with Wade. Referee Bennett Salvatore called technicals on both players for jawing, but Christie already had a technical from an earlier argument.

Suns 109, Grizzlies 102

At Phoenix, Amare Stoudemire had 30 points, 11 rebounds and five steals _ and Shawn Marion scored 29 points to lead the Suns to their season-best 10th consecutive victory.

The Suns _ winners of nine in a row earlier in the season _ improved to 23-3, the NBA's best start since Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls went 41-3 in 1995-96.

Steve Nash had 17 points and 14 assists for Phoenix. He sealed the victory with four free throws in the last 23.1 seconds. Mike Miller led Memphis with 22 points.

Spurs 96, Timberwolves 82

At San Antonio, Manu Ginobili scored 22 points, and the Spurs held Minnesota star Kevin Garnett to just one second-half basket.

Tim Duncan added 19 points and 10 rebounds for San Antonio, and Tony Parker also scored 19 points. Wally Szczerbiak had 22 for Minnesota, which dropped its fourth straight road game. Garnett had 15 points on 4-for-16 shooting.