Shaq backs buddy Vince

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

Shaquille O'Neal gave no indication he was being ironic when he said yesterday, "Two superheroes is always better than one." Shaq was trying to defend his old buddy Vince Carter of the Raptors. But surely Shaq has not forgotten about his own messy departure from the Los Angeles Lakers and his ongoing feud with Kobe Bryant.

In any event, Carter's strained left Achilles tendon kept him out of the Raptors' 106-98 loss to Shaq's Miami Heat at the Air Canada Centre yesterday. Carter's fragility has become an issue in recent years, but Shaq's take was blunt: If the Raptors had a better team, Carter might not be hurt so often.

"I wouldn't say (Carter ) isn't tough," said Shaq, who greeted the suit-and-tie-clad Carter with a big smile and a handshake when they saw each other before the tipoff. "He's out there by himself, getting banged by himself. It's hard. But I know he has the toughness.

"Only (each individual) knows how they feel. He's taking all the pressure, getting all banged up, doing everything himself. Some people like that, some people don't. But I wouldn't say he isn't tough. He just needs somebody else with him."

After Shaq asked the Lakers to trade him last spring, it happened fairly quickly. Carter made a similar request over the summer, but he remains a Raptor for the time being, despite non-stop rumours of possible and proposed deals.

The most persistent suitor for Carter's services has been New York Knicks general manager Isiah Thomas, who, according to sources, is not at all concerned about Carter's sore foot. However, Thomas told reporters in the Big Apple yesterday that rumours involving veteran guard Allan Houston, who just came back from a knee injury, are premature.

"There has been some talk about us trading Allan Houston and that's not going to happen, because I don't want to," Thomas said. "I like him and I want to see our team have a chance to play with him."

So should any rumour involving Houston be ignored?

"I wouldn't say discount them," Thomas said. "But I would say that's how I feel standing here."

Of course, there are many other Knicks who could be packaged in a Carter deal. Thomas was asked if there's a fit to be found.

"I don't know," he said. "I know this -- in this league you don't have a deal until it's done. But when players are being talked about, such as Vince Carter, my job is to be interested and see if I can find out what's going on."

What's going on is that Carter has not been granted his desired change of scenery yet, while Shaq continues to dig his new digs. Shaq said it's too early to say his Heat is rising, but his personal confidence remains solid as a rock.

HEAT IS RISING

"I know when I f--- up," said Shaq, who clearly did not yesterday as he amassed 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four blocks. "I don't need anybody to tell me when I f--- up. Excuse my French. But I already know.

"I've always been pretty honest with myself. The tape doesn't lie and the stats don't lie. I curse myself out internally all the time, 'You a------, you s-------.' So it doesn't matter what anybody says."

After the reasonably close game yesterday, Heat coach Stan Van Gundy tried to compliment the Raptors -- who beat the Heat in Miami a couple of weeks ago -- by stating the criticism they've received recently is "a little bit unfounded." But again, Shaq was blunt.

"Any team that plays us is going to be very excited to play," Shaq reasoned. "They'll be playing way over their heads. I don't really know if (the Raptors) are that good or not."

We know where we'd place our bets. Regardless, there's little doubt about whether the Heat is "that good or not."

Shaq has his fresh start. Is Vince's coming soon?

They remain good friends playing in the same league, but in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons, they presently are residing in different worlds.


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