WILL O'NEAL PLAY MONDAY? IS THE POPE A CATHOLIC?
AUBURN HILLS -- They are playing possum in Miami.
They are trying to make us believe Shaquille O'Neal's decision to play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals is a game time decision.
What? Do they think we are fools?
We all know Shaq Diesel will be in the starting line up when the stakes are high and the opposition is real. This is not the junior varsity Washington Wizards. This is the defending champion Pistons.
O'Neal practiced for the first time Saturday in two weeks. He is nursing a thigh contusion that has limited his play and kept him out of the last two games of the Wizards series. Even without him the Heat swept Washington to end that series and give big man much needed rest before this series.
'This is usually the time where I try to raise my game a little bit, [but] I've been limited because of a freak injury,'' O'Neal told reporters in Miami. "I've been kind of down, because this is new to me.''
The Pistons must anticipate that O'Neal will raise his game to NBA Finals levels. That is when he routinely scores more than 30 points a game and controls series like no other. I've heard the Pistons are preparing to face Miami with Shaq and without him.
Prepare every waking moment as if the big man will be there, because you know he will.
The Heat cannot afford to give away the first game of this series at home. Monday's game is more important to the Heat than the Pistons. Giving up home-court edge in the opening minutes of a big series is a no-no.
Besides, O'Neal knows everybody plays hurt this time of year. This is what separates good players from champions. O'Neal is a champ and one of the greatest players of all time.
He will be there just as certainly as Ben Wallace will.