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Riley challenges Shaq to 'come back a lot lighter'

Published Dec. 2, 2006

Pat Riley fired the first shot Tuesday in the Battle of Shaq's Bulge. The Heat coach wants Shaquille O'Neal to lose weight to aid his recovery from knee surgery.

"Right now I hope his thought process is that he tries to almost reinvent himself physically," Riley said. "Because this is the first time that he's really had something wrong with his knee to the extent that there's been surgery on it."

Riley said it's important that O'Neal "come back a lot lighter, a lot leaner."

O'Neal, speaking for the first time Tuesday since undergoing surgery Nov. 19 to repair cartilage in his left knee, promised he would be in "good enough shape to help the team out, help win games. ...

"Once I'm cleared to start running, I'll get back into shape," he said.

Asked if that meant lighter than his reported playing weight last season of 325 pounds, O'Neal said: "I don't know; it doesn't matter to me."

O'Neal has not stepped on a court since the operation but immediately began weight lifting and general therapy. He said his post-operation recovery time remains four to six weeks, which would put him in uniform some time between Dec. 17 and Dec. 31.

But Riley plans to ask for more than doctors' clearance.

When the Heat obtained O'Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2004, Riley set weight and body-fat requirements for O'Neal, who met them without objection.

Riley was asked Tuesday if he has made new demands of O'Neal.

"You don't demand anything from anybody," Riley said. "You say this is in the best interest of your career and also the best interest of the team.

"Our guys that rehab, conditioning is a priority in making sure they're really ready when they come back. There's a lot of things you can do to get to that state without having to deal with the knee. That's been explained to him."

O'Neal said he won't baby himself upon his return.

"I'm not a cautious type of guy," he said. "Once I'm cleared to run and jump and do all that stuff, I'll go out and be me and hopefully (the knee) can withstand the impact I bring upon it."

The injury that necessitated surgery came Nov. 12 when O'Neal collided with Houston forward Chuck Hayes. O'Neal had injured the same knee in a collision with New Jersey's Bostjan Nachbar nine days prior, forcing him to miss two games.

O'Neal said the second injury was in the middle of the knee, where the surgery was performed, and that the injury against the Nets was on the side of the knee. O'Neal was not wearing kneepads against the Nets but was wearing double-thick pads against the Rockets.

O'Neal knew something was wrong when he had the MRI exam five days after the second injury because "my leg was dead."

"When you have a knee injury, your quads and everything just shut down - that's what was happening," he said. "So now I have to rebuild all that."

The Heat is 4-6 in O'Neal's absence. He missed 21 games a year ago because of injuries and the team was 11-10.

"Everything we had is really centered around him and Dwyane (Wade)," Riley said of the offense. With O'Neal out, Riley said, the club has switched "from a power post-up to a perimeter game."

That perimeter game has come alive of late with Wade running the team from the point as Jason Williams struggles to recover from knee surgery. Swingman Dorell Wright, who has averaged 37 minutes in the past three games, has added athleticism.

Miami entered Saturday last in the league in field-goal percentage and scoring but in the two games since then has scored 205 points and shot 75 of 132, or 56.8 percent.

"We just have to develop a certain style right now and just develop some consistency in our game," O'Neal said. "We're getting better ... moving the ball better, Dwyane is playing phenomenal. Everyone else just has to do more."

O'Neal dismisses talk the injury is a sign his body, and game, are in decline. "They've been saying that for the last 10 years," he said. "The last six years I've (won four titles), so I'm going to stick to my formula. I know what I've been doing and nobody does it better even at the tender age of 34."

Raptors 94, Hornets 77

OKLAHOMA CITY - Chris Bosh had 19 points and 14 rebounds and got a big lift from the bench as Toronto got its first road win.

Anthony Parker also had 19 points, rookie Andrea Bargnani scored a career-high 16, Joey Graham added 14 and Jose Calderon tied his season best with 13 for Toronto, which had lost its first seven road games.

The Raptors opened a 61-51 lead with a 12-4 run after New Orleans' Tyson Chandler started the second half by tipping in Desmond Mason's miss. Chris Paul brought the Hornets back within four with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, but Bosh's three-point play sparked a surge of nine straight Toronto points for a 72-59 lead after three quarters.

Toronto kept pulling away, and the lead reached 89-68 when Bargnani hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to surpass his best output of the season.

Paul had 16 points and 11 assists to lead New Orleans. Rasual Butler, starting for the injured Peja Stojakovic, added 12 points and Chandler pulled down 17 rebounds. Also without David West (forearm), last season's leading scorer, the Hornets haven't scored more than 83 during a four-game losing streak.

Wizards 96, Hawks 95

WASHINGTON - Caron Butler's three-point play with 1:04 remaining lifted the Wizards. Butler scored 21 and was perfect on 15 free throws to extend his streak to 32 straight. None was bigger than the one that ended the Wizards' four-game losing streak and bailed out backcourt mate Gilbert Arenas, who also had 21 points but committed nine turnovers. Joe Johnson led Atlanta with 33 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Antawn Jamison had 18 points for Washington.

Bobcats 96, Nets 92

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Rookie Adam Morrison scored 22 and Sean May had a career-high 20 as Charlotte won for only the second time in seven road games and sent New Jersey to its sixth straight loss. Richard Jefferson led New Jersey with 27 points. Vince Carter had 25 and Nenad Krstic 20.

Rockets 82, Wolves 75

HOUSTON - Yao Ming scored 25, Shane Battier hit a pair of key 3-pointers and added 17, and the Rockets won their fourth straight despite an injury to Tracy McGrady. The six-time All-Star bruised his left hip in a first-half collision and seemed affected the rest of the game, scoring only eight points. He also had seven assists.

Kevin Garnett had 25 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota, his league-leading 12th double double.