Nine and counting

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

MIAMI -- In a troubling development, the season is ending just the way it started for the Raptors.

Heat behemoth Shaquille O'Neal passed his way to a rare triple-double and helped extend the Raptors' losing streak to nine games -- matching their season-high skid from the start of the year -- in the process as Miami prevailed 106-97 last night.

What's more, the Raptors likely lost Matt Bonner for the final four games of the season because of a sprained left ankle. Bonner will have to wear a boot on his left foot for at least a few days.

With Heat star guard Dwyane Wade sidelined with the flu, O'Neal manhandled the Raptors double-teams and notched just the second triple-double of his career and the first with assists as one of the categories. He had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in just 28 minutes for the first triple-double in 848 games, the second-longest streak in that department behind ex-Raptor Charles Oakley (955). O'Neal's previous triple-double came Nov. 20, 1993.

"If they don't miss shots, it makes it tough because you're not going to guard Shaq on the block one-on-one. Nobody does," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said.

With each team missing a key player -- Raptors star Chris Bosh (thumb) sat out for the eighth game in a row and is done for the season -- Miami showcased far more depth and rolled to a reasonably simple win. O'Neal, in foul trouble the entire game, just kicked the ball out and guys like Derek Anderson (with 17 points, including four three-pointers, off the bench) made shots. Antoine Walker led the Heat with 32 points.

"I think Micky (Arison), the (Heat) owner, told me I had (a triple-double) when I was on the bench (motioning with three fingers followed by two fingers) and I was like, 'Oh, you want my jersey.' " O'Neal, the big No. 32, said. "Then, I was like, 'Oh, triple-double. Okay."

In about the only positive news last night, Raptors point guard Mike James became the first player in team history to score 30 or more points in four consecutive games. James, who finished with 32 points, reached 30 with a three-pointer with just over eight minutes left. Vince Carter scored 30 or more in three consecutive games six times.

"That don't mean nothing to me," James said. "What means something to me is winning games."

A five-point Heat bulge after three quarters was extended to 12 just over three minutes into the fourth and the Raptors never recovered. The Raptors also never led the entire game.

Coach Sam Mitchell turned to his 26th starting lineup of the season to try to contain O'Neal, inserting raw second-year big men Rafael Araujo and Pape Sow with James, Morris Peterson and Charlie Villanueva. But even though O'Neal was quickly on the bench after picking up two fouls early in the first quarter, the Heat toyed with the Raptors and led 31-21 after 12 minutes.

The Raptors play their penultimate road game of the season tonight in Orlando against the red-hot Magic.


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