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Heat takes 2-0 lead over Nets



Published: Wed, April 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Alonzo Mourning gave Miami a spark with 21 points and nine boards.

MIAMI (AP) -- Alonzo Mourning was supposed to be an insurance policy for the Miami Heat, someone to give them a few good minutes off the bench and take some rebounding and defensive responsibilities off Shaquille O'Neal's mammoth shoulders.

On Tuesday night, Mourning was much, much more for the Heat, who took a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the New Jersey Nets.

Mourning, who wanted out of New Jersey earlier this season because he didn't consider the Nets a championship contender, scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 16 minutes -- helping the Heat to a 104-87 win.

"It's important that each and every one of us stay ready," said Mourning, whose high in 19 games in his late-season return to the Heat was only 11 points. "And when an opportunity like this presents itself, you've got to take advantage."

Aiding the Heat

Dwyane Wade had 17 points and 10 assists for Miami. O'Neal, Eddie Jones and Damon Jones each finished with 14 points for the Heat, which moved to 38-5 at home this season.

"The Hulk carried Superman today," O'Neal said.

Nenad Krstic had 27 points for New Jersey, which got 21 points from Vince Carter, 14 from Richard Jefferson and 10 from Jason Kidd.

"We're still confident. We're still focused," Carter said. "And we still believe we can make this a contest."

The series shifts Thursday to New Jersey, where the Nets have won 10 of their last 13 playoff games.

"They held serve," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "Now we've got to go back to Jersey and respond."

Held O'Neal in check

Once again, the Nets found a way to hold O'Neal in check. And it didn't matter.

In five games against the Nets this season -- all Miami victories -- O'Neal has been mortal, averaging 16.4 points and 10 rebounds. Still, the Nets still haven't been close; their average margin of defeat is 19.8 points.

Mourning had 13 points in seven second-half minutes, eight of those points coming in the third quarter. His short hook with 3:46 left in the third gave Miami what was then its biggest lead, 69-49 -- and capped a 16-5 run that put the Nets away.

"There must be something about the water down here that has energized him," Nets forward Brian Scalabrine said. "He's not getting tired."

Said Heat coach Stan Van Gundy: "He was absolutely great tonight, maybe the biggest reason from a personnel standpoint that we win the game."

Nets have big drought

New Jersey missed 13 of 14 shots in the run, a huge offensive drought once again dooming its chances of snapping what's now a six-game losing streak in Miami. The Nets missed 19 of 20 shots at one point in their 90-65 loss here on March 12, then went 1-for-17 in a first-half stretch of their 116-98 loss in Game 1.

"We're not shaken. They're a very good team," Jefferson said. "They have the home court, and that's what you work 82 games for. But I have no doubt that we'll come back and make this a series."

Only eight NBA teams have won a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games; the last was O'Neal's Lakers, who rallied from 0-2 last year to oust San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals.

"We just did what we're supposed to do, which is win at home," O'Neal said. "We don't want to get overconfident. We just have to keep playing team ball and we'll be tough to beat."

Carter hit a short leaner with 7:32 left to bring the Nets within 79-67. But O'Neal, who was in danger of a playoff career low, converted a three-point play on Miami's next possession. It gave O'Neal nine points; as a Laker, he had seven in a first-round win over Houston last season.

Stars cancel out early

The stars canceled out each other in the first half, and were anything but super. Carter and Kidd combined for 14 points at halftime, exactly matching the total put up by Wade and O'Neal.

The Nets trailed only 48-39 at the break after a most unlikely source came up with the best half of his young career. Krstic had 18 points, matching or exceeding his total from 71 of the 75 regular-season games he played in.

Yet he was almost a postgame afterthought when compared to Mourning, who left basketball twice because of kidney disease and a resultant kidney transplant. And he's desperate for his first title.

"We have 14 more games to win," Mourning said. "And I'm counting them down."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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