Shaquille O'Neal's opinion of Christian Laettner has come full circle. "I used to hate Christian Laettner," O'Neal recently deadpanned. Then they became teammates in Miami, with...

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MIAMI — Shaquille O’Neal’s opinion of Christian Laettner has come full circle.

“I used to hate Christian Laettner,” O’Neal recently deadpanned.

Then they became teammates in Miami, with O’Neal carrying the bulk of the inside load while Laettner and Michael Doleac relieve the 11-time All-Star center from the pounding he takes on the floor. Early results suggest this is a good mix, with the Heat having the most wins in the Eastern Conference.

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O’Neal is averaging 20.1 points and 11.2 rebounds for Miami (14-7), which visits Toronto today. He’s getting plenty of rest in most games, and is on pace to average what would be a career-low 34 minutes — which would conceivably allow him to be more rested for the playoff grind.

“One of the things that has sort of gone unnoticed in the last five games here by people is that our backup big guys are doing a very, very good job for us,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We’re getting good play out of Christian and Mike virtually every night.”

Laettner’s introduction to Miami didn’t go exactly as he hoped. He missed the season’s first 11 games with a sore knee, but he has made 50.3 percent of his shots since being activated from the injured list. He scored 23 points last week in Miami’s 105-81 road win over Chicago.

“My body feels fine,” Laettner said. “All I need is reps and time and some experience out there on the court, and things will come around. And they are starting to come around. I’m getting a feel out there. I’m doing a little better here and there.”

Doleac’s numbers don’t seem impressive: a 3.2-point average, with only one double-digit game. Yet he’s making nearly half his shots and plays defense effectively enough that Van Gundy doesn’t unnecessarily rush O’Neal through his rest stops.

“I just do my job and try to play solid basketball,” Doleac said. “We all understand what we’re here to do. We’re here to win games. It’s not rocket science. When it’s time for Shaq to get a blow, we go in and try to hold down the fort.”

No team in the East has played more games than Miami’s 21, and that sort of schedule has placed even a higher premium on Laettner and Doleac. And the big man is appreciative.

“For the first time in my career, I can feel comfortable about sitting down,” O’Neal said. “These guys are my first true backups. I can get some rest.”


• F Kwame Brown rejoined the Wizards for practice after serving a two-day suspension by the team for refusing to join the huddle during a timeout.

• Detroit Pistons rookie Carlos Delfino will be sidelined at least 10 days after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.