Bobcats have no answer for fast Heat start

MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal's improved play is leading the Miami Heat to one of their better stretches of the season.

O'Neal had his best scoring performance since returning from knee surgery and Dwyane Wade scored 27 points as the Heat won their fourth straight with a 113-93 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night.

"I'm just getting back on track, the guys are looking out for me to produce," O'Neal said. "I'm trying to get back into the flow of things. The more minutes I play, the more banging I do, I'll get into it."

O'Neal, who missed 32 games, hit his first four shots and scored 19 first-half points on 9-of-10 shooting. He finished with 22 points and was one of six players in double figures.

"He looks to me like he's back," Bobcats forward Emeka Okafor said.

Miami never trailed after going on a 20-7 spurt to open a 28-15 first-quarter lead. Jason Kapono's 3-pointer capped the run with 2:58 remaining.

"We have a full complement; before, we didn't have Shaquille back," Heat interim coach Ron Rothstein said. "It is good for our mental health.

"He worked hard to get low position. When he gets the ball with a guy on his back on the block, teams have to make a decision. He is a good passer out of the double teams and traps."

The Bobcats cut a 17-point deficit to 96-87 on Raymond Felton's 3-pointer with 5:49 remaining in the game, but Miami answered with 10 straight points over a 2:29 span to secure the victory.

Wade also finished with 12 assists for his 15th double-double of the season.

"We're more healthy now, we're getting guys back and that gives us a deeper team," Wade said.

Still, the Heat played without point guard Gary Payton, suspended by the league following his ejection for arguing with officials during Saturday's win at Milwaukee.

Rookie Chris Quinn, who made his first career start in place of the injured Jason Williams and Payton, finished with 14 points and five assists.

"I think any time you get thrown into that situation you get a little nervous, but once you're out on the court, it's just basketball," Quinn said. "The only thing you can do is compete and play as hard as you can."

"It went great because we got a win. I think that's the most important thing."

Felton scored 20 points, and Okafor and Gerald Wallace each scored 19 for the Bobcats.

"Number one, you cannot go on the road and fall behind a team with two players the caliber of Wade and Shaq," Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "He and Wade really play well off each other."

Early in the second, O'Neal made three field goals as Miami increased its lead to 43-24 with 8:46 left. The Heat shot 68 percent from the field in the first two quarters, the best for any half this season.

"He's played 14 years already but I don't think he's lost a step," Bobcats center Jake Voskuhl said. "He doesn't fly up and down the court as much but I think that's just part of him coming back from being out so long."

Charlotte, which trailed 65-47 at halftime, reduced Miami's lead to 67-54 on Matt Carroll's two free throws with 10:20 remaining in the third quarter.

But the Heat responded with a 10-1 run in the next 2:29 as Kapono and James Posey each hit 3-pointers and Wade added two field goals for a 77-55 lead.

"It was one of those games," Okafor said. "They got on a roll, jumped on us early and we spent the whole game trying to fight back."

Game notes
Eddie Jones, who played 13 minutes and scored five points, made his first home appearance since Miami's 2005 semifinal series against Detroit. Jones signed as a free agent last week. ... Okafor grabbed 11 rebounds for his 29th double-double of the season.