Pat Riley was back on the sideline. Shaquille O'Neal was back in the starting lineup. And the Heat had enough confidence back to finally win on the road against a quality opponent.
A day after a shocking turnover on its bench, the Heat turned back the Chicago Bulls 100-97 Tuesday night at the United Center.
While much of the focus was on Riley's return to the bench, the most significant shift was O'Neal getting his first start since the November 3 home opener.
Riley informed O'Neal at the morning shootaround he would be starting, but also stressed a ceiling of 25 minutes for the center who had missed 18 consecutive games before Sunday's return off the bench.
"He said, `You're starting,'" O'Neal said. "I said, `OK.`"
After the short-and-sweet between two of the league's most loquacious communicators, O'Neal did his talking on the court.
The 7-foot-1, 340-pound All-Star was dominant against the undersized Bulls, closing with 30 points on 12-of-21 shooting and seven rebounds. He even shot a passable 6 of 9 at the foul line in 27 minutes in his second action since missing 18 games with a sprained right ankle.
With former starting center Alonzo Mourning adding 11 points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes, the Heat outscored the Bulls 42-16 in the paint.
Chicago's tallest starters were 6-foot-9 small forward Luol Deng and 6-8 center Michael Sweetney.
The victory was the first on the road for the Heat against a team with a winning record.
The game completed a tumultuous 36 hours that began with Stan Van Gundy's resignation due to family reasons and Riley's return to the coaching role he had held until the eve of the 2003-04 season.
After holding a 12-point lead early and standing comfortably ahead most of the way, the Heat saw its lead trimmed to 86-83 on a 3-pointer by Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich with 3:42 to play.
With O'Neal out of monitored minutes, the Heat initially attempted to play the final stages with Mourning in the middle.
But after Chicago pushed within 89-87 on a jumper in the lane by Deng with 2:30 to play, Riley went over his minutes on his O'Neal plan and reinserted his dominant big man. Three quick points by O'Neal pushed the Heat's lead back to 92-87 with 1:54 left.
Another 3-pointer by Hinrich later made it a two-point game. From there, a missed foul shot by Heat guard Dwyane Wade with 6.9 seconds to go left the Bulls within 100-97. But a 3-pointer by Deng was off just before the buzzer.
There was some pain involved for the Heat.
With point guard Jason Williams already out a third consecutive game with tendinitis in his right knee, Wade hobbled off in the third quarter.
Wade tweaked his right hamstring while scrambling for a loose ball. He had to be assisted to the bench, but returned later in the period.
After scoring 41 points Sunday against the Wizards, Wade was limited to 14 on 6-of-17 shooting. His contribution nonetheless was essential, with his 11 assists helping compensate for Williams' absence.
n Spurs win in OT
Cuttino Mobley was as weak as a kitten and the Clippers' shooting guard, whose nickname is Cat, used every once of his willpower just to step on the court Tuesday night.
"I thought about not playing but that's not the type of person that I am," Mobley said, in a barely audible voice, after a 95-87 overtime loss on the home floor of the defending NBA-champion San Antonio Spurs.
"If we would have had a healthy Cat tonight, we probably would have won tonight," point guard Sam Cassell said. "But he gave us minutes that we needed, with us not being at full strength."
Mobley woke up Tuesday morning with flu-like symptoms, his body experiencing chills, along with high fever. His 3 of 16 shooting performance, in 44 body-aching minutes, mirrored that of the team, as the Clippers shot a season-low 33.3 percent from the field.
Elton Brand led the Clippers with 24 points and 12 rebounds, for his 15th double-double.
But Brand, who played a game-high 46 minutes, noticeably was fatigued down the stretch. He was 0 of 5 from the field in the fourth quarter and the overtime session and his 9 of 23 shooting performance by far was his poorest this season.
"We just didn't make shots," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "To even be in a game like this and do that, is pretty amazing."
Dunleavy said the Spurs factored significantly in the Clippers' poor shooting night with stout defense, which was the platform in San Antonio's title run last season.
"(The Clippers) are really aggressive," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Mike Dunleavy has them playing great basketball. In the second half, we picked up the defense."
San Antonio survived a wicked 6-of-19 free-throw shooting performance. Tim Duncan, who otherwise was magnificent with 27 points and 22 rebounds, was 3 of 13 from the foul line.
In other NBA action: Atlanta 100, Cleveland 94; Washington 94, New Jersey 74; Denver 101, Charlotte 85; Sacramento 93, Minnesota 91; Golden State 110, Seattle 107 (OT).