Didn't matter. Wade was great once again -- and his teammates picked him up when he needed the lift.
Wade scored 35 points and tied his career high with 16 assists, Michael Beasley and Daequan Cook both had career highs on the way to a combined 55 points off Miami's bench. The Heat spoiled O'Neal's first trip back to South Florida since last year's trade with a 135-129 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.
"It wasn't about the story line of Shaq coming back for us," Wade said. "We really needed this win."
Beasley scored 28 points -- the most by a Heat player besides Wade this season -- and nine rebounds. Cook added 27 points and Miami led for all but a portion of the opening minutes on the way to the second-highest point total in franchise history.
But afterward, both credited Wade for setting the tone.
"You can tell the way Dwyane was playing throughout the game that it was very important for him to show things are still going good without the Big Fella in the middle," Cook said.
"It's the story of our season," O'Neal said. "We let another game slip away."
The night started with Shaq and the star he dubbed Flash hugging. By the end, things seemed a bit testy.
O'Neal fouled Wade with 1:21 left, then stood over him Muhammad Ali-style until Udonis Haslem nudged O'Neal out of the way to help up Miami's best player. Wade made both free throws for a 127-119 lead, and cries of "M-V-P" drowned out a profane anti-Shaq chant from some in the crowd.
"Just being dramatic," Wade said, insisting twice after the game there was nothing unseemly about the play.
On the next Miami possession, it was over for O'Neal. Wade drove on him again to draw Shaq's sixth foul, and all O'Neal could do was meander slowly to the bench.
Until last week, only one Heat player had ever managed 30 points and 15 assists in a game. Wade has now done it twice in his last five outings, and seemed to play with a purpose in this one.
"I think he can get better," O'Neal said.
Sure enough, Wade got a win -- and O'Neal's MVP backing as well.
"Dwyane is my guy. ... It would be nice for the organization if he could get an MVP," O'Neal said.
It was O'Neal's first time in Miami as an opponent since Feb. 10, 2004. O'Neal was introduced last of the Suns, giving him the opportunity to receive an ovation. Most fans obliged, with the overwhelming majority cheering, although there were a few scattered whistles.
O'Neal then went to midcourt to shake hands with Heat owner Micky Arison and his family, then over to the Miami bench for embraces with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, assistant coach Bob McAdoo and others. Finally, he and Wade shared a hug just before tip-off.
"He came over with a lot of class," Spoelstra said.
Their next contact was about six minutes later, when O'Neal stuck out a leg, tripped up Wade and drew his second foul.
That was the only way to stop Wade early.
The NBA's leading scorer was simply dominant in the first quarter, going 8-for-10 from the floor and finishing with 19 points and three assists, staking Miami to a 40-29 lead.
Of course, no lead is safe against Phoenix, which shot a ridiculous 10-for-11 in the opening 10 minutes of the second quarter -- yet never held the lead, trailing 67-61 at halftime.
O'Neal was traded for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, who were traded again last month for Jermaine O'Neal and Jamario Moon. And the two newest Heat members -- not including Luther Head, who was signed Wednesday but wasn't with the team against the Suns -- teamed up on Shaq in the third quarter.
O'Neal had position under the basket, only to have his shot blocked by Moon. Shaq got the ball back and ran over Jermaine O'Neal for an offensive foul.
Miami shot 65 percent in the third period, and closed on a 12-5 run to take a 104-95 lead into the final 12 minutes.
"We shot 57 percent and 50 percent from (3-point range), so that should be enough to win the game," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.
- O'Neal was 9-4 in his first 13 trips to Miami as an opponent, and even used his Twitter feed during the afternoon to invite fans to find him on South Beach. If they did, he said he'd give them tickets.
- It was the fifth time the Heat had two 20-point scorers off the bench, and second time this season.
- Heat C Mark Blount remains away from the team; he left earlier this week for a family funeral.
- Head is expected to practice Thursday and be in uniform Friday at Toronto.