Shaq says everyone must step up

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

If being in first place has the Miami Heat this ornery, one only can imagine what the mood would be if the standings were different.

But greatness is not derived from settling, and the Heat understands it has been lukewarm since the turn of the calendar year.

"December is long gone and over the month of January we have been a mediocre to below-mediocre team," said Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, whose club will take on the Raptors tonight at the Air Canada Centre.

"(The Raptors) are playing a lot better basketball than we are right now. Bottom line is, over the past three weeks, we've played better than only four teams in the East.

"We think we can play two, two and a half quarters, and get the job done, and we're proving we can't do it that way. So hopefully we'll get a change in demeanour."

Heat centre Shaquille O'Neal's demeanour has been an issue over the past 48 hours. In the wake of the Heat's 106-98 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, some blunt comments from Shaq appeared in the Miami Herald yesterday, with the 7-foot-1 behemoth strongly suggesting the Heat players need to shoot better and pass more.

"I didn't call my team out," Shaq said yesterday in Toronto. "I said when a guy like Dwyane (Wade) is hurting and he kicks the ball out, we have to hit shots. So that's it. I'm not in the business of calling my team out. We all need to play better. That's what I said."

Wade, the Heat's point guard, did not practise yesterday and may not play tonight because of a sore left knee and a sore left ankle.

"I'll get a lot of therapy (last night)," Wade said. "(Toronto) is a good city to do that, because it's cold outside.

"I just took a couple of bad falls (in Philly) and I bruised my knee again, which I had before, and turned my ankle. But I'm not really as worried about the ankle as much as I am about the knee."

Whether Wade plays or not, the Heat is looking to regain its competitive edge, despite its conference-best 30-13 record. After winning 14 games in a row in late December and early January, Miami is only 5-6 in its past 11 games.

Van Gundy insisted his players are not showing subtle signs of turning against each other.

"I don't think (Shaq) is trying to point fingers," Van Gundy said. "I think what he's trying to do is point out what's going wrong.

"But we already talked about it (yesterday morning) and I don't think we'll get into that. It can't be a finger-pointing thing. There's enough responsibility to go around and a lot of it starts with me. You're not going to change the way someone else plays. You only can change the way you play, and the disposition you bring."

Miami and Toronto have split a pair of games this season, but obviously the Raptors hope the Heat players wait at least one more day to find a cure for what's ailing them, both physically and mentally.

"We need to get back to playing harder for longer on a more consistent basis," Van Gundy said. "Until we do that, we will be what we've been in the past three weeks, which is a mediocre team. If we're not going to make more of an effort than the people we're playing against, then we'll stay right where we've been."

Uh ... in first place?

"It doesn't matter," Shaq said, "until you win the whole thing."


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