With O'Neal back for the first time in 19 games, but a shell of his dominating self for almost all of regulation, the Heat went back to its playoff approach against the Wizards to stop a four-game losing streak.
After averaging 31 points against Washington in last May's 4-0 postseason sweep, including 31- and 42-point performances when O'Neal was sidelined the final two games by a thigh injury, Dwyane Wade this time scored a season-high 41.
"He continually is defining his greatness with his play," center Alonzo Mourning said.
On a night the focus was on O'Neal and his return from a sprained right ankle, just about every impact moment was created by Wade, who filled out his stat line with 10 rebounds, eight assists and four steals.
"I, seriously, had a year in college where I didn't have 41 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists," said coach Stan Van Gundy, an undersized guard at Division III Brockport State in New York. "That was an absolutely phenomenal performance."
In his desperation to help end the losing streak, Wade turned desperate on the final play of regulation, when he was caught in the air with no place to shoot.
He dumped a pass to O'Neal below the rim, with only a whistle with one second to play saving the Heat from its first loss against the Wizards in 13 meetings.
Fouled as he scrambled for the ball while clearly out of shooting position, O'Neal then went to the line with the Heat down 95-94. "I really thought he was going to make both," Wade said. "But I knew he would make one."
O'Neal rimmed out the first attempt, dropping him to an all-too-typical 4 of 13.
"I knew I was going to hit one of 'em," O'Neal said. "But I wanted to hit the first one."
Down to one last attempt, he then forced the extra period.
"It was the best one he hit all night," Van Gundy said. From there, it was all Wade and O'Neal. Wade scored six points and had three rebounds in the extra five minutes, with O'Neal rounding out the Heat's scoring in the overtime with three points as well as four rebounds.
"I feel pretty good," O'Neal said after his first game action since the November 3 home opener. "I'm sure I'll wake up in a little bit of pain."
Considering what the Heat endured in his absence, especially the season-worst four-game losing streak it carried into Sunday, O'Neal's entry with 5:55 to play in the first quarter was nearly as much a relief as the outcome.
"Words can't explain how good it is to have him back there," said Mourning, who started but played only 22 minutes. "I'm smiling and my body is smiling."
It was O'Neal's first game as a reserve since November 22, 2002. He closed with 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting, 11 rebounds and fouled out after 23 minutes, which was one minute shy of the ceiling the team had preferred with his playing time.
His presence, plus Wade's effort and 21 points and seven assists from point guard Gary Payton, who again started in place of ailing Jason Williams, allowed the Heat to overcome 28 points from former Heat forward Caron Butler.
Kings 110, Hornets 100
At Sacramento, California, Bonzi Wells scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, Peja Stojakovic hit six 3-pointers and also finished with 23 points to help Sacramento snap a four-game home losing streak.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim added 23 points and 11 rebounds on his 29th birthday.
Rookie Chris Paul had 18 points, 12 assists and five rebounds for New Orleans. The Hornets have lost five straight overall and nine in a row at Arco Arena.
Pistons 109, Clippers 101
At Los Angeles, Chauncey Billups scored 25 points, Richard Hamilton had 23 and NBA-leading Detroit won its sixth straight for a franchise-best 15-2 start.
Elton Brand had 36 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who were trying to sweep a five-game homestand for the first time since 1978-79.
Rockets 100, Trail Blazers 86
At Portland, Oregon, Tracy McGrady matched his season high with 35 points and added seven rebounds to lead Houston to its eighth straight victory over Portland.
Since McGrady returned from a strained back, the Rockets have won three straight and four of their last five. Without McGrady, Houston is 0-8.
Zach Randolph had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Portland.