HOUSTON -- New uniform, same Shaq.
It took Shaquille O'Neal a mere 22 minutes to show how several NBA norms remain the same despite his recent change of address. Specifically, he can
still dominate Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo, and his touch around the basket is as good as his foul shooting is poor.
O'Neal had 17 points and seven rebounds Sunday night in his debut for his new team, looking surprisingly nimble and quick for such an early point in
the preseason as the Miami Heat opened the NBA's exhibition slate with an 85-75 loss to the Houston Rockets.
Following a summer in which he endeavored to get in shape, O'Neal -- listed at 325 pounds -- didn't have any dunks and didn't even draw a sellout
crowd. But what he did do, and the manner in which he did it, was certainly enough to validate the hopes of Miami fans whose excitement level has gone
off the charts thanks to the team's huge offseason addition.
"My expectations are very high for this team," O'Neal said. "I'm here with good guys, a fun group to be around, and they seem to be very hungry. They
had a good run, they were only missing one piece. Hopefully I'm that piece."
O'Neal gave a hearty handskake to Yao prior to the opening tipoff, then recovered from a shaky start -- getting scored on by Yao and losing the ball
the first time he touched it on offense -- to make three consecutive shots.
Wearing a new number, 32 instead of 34, and clad in black and red rather than the familiar purple and gold he donned for the Los Angeles Lakers, one
of O'Neal's best moves came in the second quarter when he deftly ducked under Yao's outstretched arm to gently bounce a shot off the backboard. The
ball rolled around the rim and off, but O'Neal's timing was perfect as he was right there to tap it back in.
With Mutombo replacing Yao as the starting center for the second half, O'Neal went right at one of the best shot blockers in league history. On one
particularly nifty possession, he got the ball deep in the low post and suddenly flicked a half-hook over Mutombo before the 7-foot-2 center had a
chance to realize the shot was coming. It dropped in to give the Heat a 53-51 lead, and O'Neal left the game for good moments later after picking up
his fifth foul.
"Foul me out!" he yelled at official Scott Wall, whose whistle stayed silent on the next Houston possession despite O'Neal taking an oversized swipe
at Tyronn Lue's drive.
O'Neal, who watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench, finished 8-for-14 from the field and 1-for-3 from the line, badly missing a pair of foul
shots in the third quarter as the ball came off his hand with a sidespin.
Yao had 10 points and five rebounds for Houston, and Tracy McGrady scored 10 points in 18 minutes in his Rockets debut.
After the game, the Rockets left for a 15-hour flight to China, where they will play the Sacramento Kings in a pair of exhibition games.