Heat await a test from Shaq and LeBron

BY foxsports • November 11, 2009

Entering the season, there probably weren't many prognosticators expecting Miami and Cleveland to be in those positions.

But here they are, the Heat with a 6-1 record that matches the franchise's best ever, and the Cavaliers still getting used to the megawatt star duo being formed by LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal. The teams play Thursday in Miami, and although it's only the eighth Heat game of the campaign, there's some in the locker room that view it as a significant test.

"Definitely," Heat point guard Mario Chalmers said. "You can say that Cleveland's one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference with Boston and Orlando. We're just trying to prove ourselves, prove that we belong right up there with the best."

No Heat team has ever gotten off to a 7-1 start, a plateau Miami would reach if they knock off the Cavs.

Entering play Wednesday, only two teams - Boston and Phoenix - had records better than Miami, which used second-half runs of 16-3 and 19-3 to pull away from Washington on Tuesday night. Cleveland took a 4-3 record into Wednesday's game at Orlando, a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals.

Of course, that doesn't mean everyone was enjoying the extra attention.

"Who do we play Thursday?" Heat guard and reigning NBA scoring champion Dwyane Wade asked. "I have no idea. I'll check the schedule and get back to you on that."

The matchup brings all kinds of subplots.

O'Neal will return to Miami for only the second time as an opponent since helping Wade and the Heat win the 2006 NBA title. Cleveland guard Mo Williams, the Cavs' second-leading scorer behind James, was someone Miami wanted badly in the free agent market two summers ago.

And the biggest buzz of all will center around James, who - like Wade - can become a free agent at season's end, and there's tons of speculation that Miami will try to bring the two superstars, Olympic teammates and close friends together in South Florida starting next season.

"I think it's going to be fun," Heat forward Michael Beasley said.

Not everyone agrees with that, most notably Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who groaned when asked about the extra attention the game will likely receive.

"That's what drives a head coach crazy. I hate it," Spoelstra said. "I'd love to play (Wednesday) without all the media hype. I don't know if there will be. But really, what it's all about is that we're going to play the Cavs on Thursday in a big game."



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