|Marion returns to Phoenix, where Shaq awaits Heat|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 November 2008 09:40|
But his return to Phoenix will be overshadowed by a 7-foot-1 guy who, well, overshadows just about everything.
When Marion and the Miami Heat visit the Suns on Friday night, it'll be the first time Shaquille O'Neal sees the Heat since the trade that brought closure to a rapidly decaying relationship toward the end of last season. O'Neal says it's just another game, but even some of his current teammates aren't buying that story.
So get ready for Shaq-Miami I.
ming out early and dominating.''
Odds are, Suns fans will be thrilled to see Marion.
Most Heat players, though, seem ambivalent to seeing Shaq again.
He doesn't keep in regular contact with most players on Miami's roster - in fairness, he played with only a handful of them - and Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are the only Heat starters remaining from the 2006 NBA title team, the highlight of Shaq's 3 1/2 seasons in South Florida.
And even Shaq acknowledges that he doesn't speak with Wade anymore.
``I've been watching Shaq since I was 5 years old, since he was breaking backboards in Orlando,'' Heat rookie Michael Beasley said. ``It's special. It's like meeting Michael Jordan, almost. I guess it's something. I think there's going to be animosity, good competitiveness. I think it's going to be a real good game. I just hope I don't have to take a charge against him.''
No, that duty will likely go to Haslem, the league's smallest starting center, who's only half a foot and 100 pounds smaller than O'Neal.
Still, somehow, Haslem is maybe the happiest Heat player to see O'Neal.
ecial about it.''
If past stats are any indication, O'Neal could be primed for a big night. In his first games against the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers after leaving those two franchises, he averaged 24.5 points and 14.5 rebounds.
His breakups there were filled with rancor: O'Neal had some particularly sharp words for former star teammate Penny Hardaway with the Magic after departing central Florida, and by now, everyone who follows the NBA is acutely aware of the neverending saga starring Shaq, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson in O'Neal's post-Lakers era.
But for whatever reason, O'Neal's departure from Miami hasn't brought the same verbal venom. Sure, there were a few Shaq cracks - calling Wade ``wonderboy,'' laying some of the blame for his 2007-08 struggles on Ricky Davis and Chris Quinn (who said he wasn't bothered), and blaming the Heat medical staff for his constant ailments - but as far as NBA divorces go, it's been relatively tame.
``Just a regular game. There's no hard feelings,'' O'Neal said Wednesday night in Minnesota. ``They can get hot. We know they have a lot of shooters and we know how they play, but it's just another game. ... I feel good about it. Good people. Business is business. I've been a businessman since '92 and I don't take anything personal. It's cool. I'm good. Everything's good.''
rion feels the same way.
O'Neal largely forced Miami's hand into making a trade last year, even asking for a buyout of the remaining 2 1/2 years of his $20-million-a-season deal. But Marion was quite content in Phoenix, which fancied itself as a championship contender.
``I love the fans in Phoenix. I had a great 8 1/2 years there,'' Marion said. ``I was sad to go. I think it was sad for me to go. But it is what it is. It's a business, we'll go there and we'll try to get a win.''
Marion averaged 18.4 points in 660 games with the Suns, was part of six playoff appearances and went to four All-Star games wearing Phoenix colors.
``He's had one of the greatest Suns careers of all time,'' Phoenix guard Steve Nash said. ``I'd imagine he's going to have a great ovation. If he doesn't, I'll be extremely disappointed.''
Chances are, Marion will be received a bit better in this game than when O'Neal returns to Miami in March.
``Boo me,'' O'Neal said. ``You can't hurt my feelings because my feelings don't get hurt. Because I don't have any feelings. I'm a martian.''
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this story.