Side Lines for Tuesday — December 27, 2005

• Prime beef: Riley mulls a weighty idea to aid Shaq

Prime beef: Riley mulls a weighty idea to aid Shaq


MIAMI — Shaquille O’Neal laughed at the idea: diaperclad men of gargantuan size summoned as battering rams to make the NBA’s most imposing big man even better.

Don’t laugh, Shaq. It might happen.

Coach Pat Riley is talking about adding extra bulk — and he means real tonnage — to Miami Heat practices.

Riley’s idea? Sumo wrestlers.

“We’re going to bring them in and have them lean on him and lean on him and we’re not going to let him just back them in,” Riley said. “And then he’s going to have to take 100 jump hooks and 100 turnaround jumpers.”

In Riley’s eyes, there isn’t much difference between sumo wrestling and the way teams defend his 7-foot-1, 340-pound center. Matches between sumotoris dressed in mawashis — diapers, in the vernacular of the uninformed — typically last 10 to 15 seconds, with two massive men pushing and shoving, trying to knock the other from a circular area.

Defending Shaq is essentially the same concept.

“The only ways for teams to keep Shaquille from getting good position is to hold him and to grab him,” Heat center Alonzo Mourning said.

Opposing post players often keep at least one arm and often both — plus elbows — in his back, using every bit of leverage they can muster from their 260-pound bodies to keep him away from the basket. If O’Neal defended in a similar fashion, bodies would fly and he’d spend most games entirely sidelined with foul trouble.

“You can’t stop him,” Hawks center John Edwards said last week after O’Neal scored 28 points in only 24 minutes against Atlanta.

Riley divulged his plan Sunday, after the Heat beat Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers 97-92 — a game where O’Neal struggled a bit offensively, shooting 8-of-18 against the likes of Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown and finishing with 18 points.

His comment wasn’t designed to express displeasure with O’Neal. Instead, it was borne out of the long-standing frustration Miami has with the way teams defend their behemoth center, perhaps the most physically imposing man to play the game.

The worst-kept secret in the NBA might be this: O’Neal cannot get away with the same tactics teams use against him, even though the rule book states that “contact initiated by the defensive player guarding a player with the ball is not legal. This contact includes, but is not limited to, forearm, hands, or body check.”

“I’m sure that everybody will say that I’m just up here trying to complain, but I don’t see how he could ever get to the basket,” Riley said. “I don’t care if he’s 340 pounds. They get locked into such a defensive position that they just hold him. … Impeding his progress. But he’s got to find a way to get around that.”

Miami (16-12) got past its showdown with the Lakers, but will soon begin prepping for another major test. After closing a four-game homestand against Milwaukee on Tuesday, the Heat will visit Detroit — the team that beat Miami in the Eastern Conference finals last season — on Thursday.


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