MIAMI — Dwyane Wade typically takes the first few minutes of games to find a rhythm and get his Miami Heat teammates involved in the offense.
He won’t have that luxury tonight, since the outcome could be decided in a mere 51.9 seconds.
The Heat will visit the Atlanta Hawks to replay the final moments of their game that began Dec. 19 and was originally played to an overtime decision, one eventually erased from the books by the NBA because the Hawks’ stat crew erroneously said Shaquille O’Neal had six fouls and kept him off the floor for those final 51.9 seconds.
After learning O’Neal only had five fouls, Miami cried, well, foul. The NBA agreed, ordering a rare do-over, the first since 1983. When the suspended game resumes, it’ll be Miami’s ball, with the Hawks leading 114-111 late in overtime.
"They better not give me the ball," Wade said. "I might shoot a 3 right away."
Suffice to say, a bit has changed since this game started. Back at tip-off, when Heat guard Chris Quinn corralled the tap to open the game, Alonzo Mourning’s knee was intact, Shawn Marion and Mike Bibby were in the Western Conference and O’Neal was still residing in South Florida.
Mourning suffered a season-ending, and possibly career-ending, knee blowout in the first quarter. Bibby wasn’t yet on Atlanta’s roster, and Marion — who played a game on Dec. 19 for Phoenix — was still weeks away from being traded to Miami for O’Neal, who ironically was the one reinstated by the NBA to this game and now won’t be part of its conclusion.
"It’s going to be strange," Marion said.
The league will allow some of the newly acquired players to be part of the active rosters for the suspended game, which Atlanta thought it won the first time around, 117-111. All of the stats accrued in the first 52:08 of the Dec. 19 game will count once the game actually ends on Saturday night, meaning Wade’s numbers will improve — he already has 36 points and 10 assists.
"It was tough that it happened that way and we had a chance to win that ballgame," Wade said. "It would have been a good win for us at the time. But it didn’t happen."
The outcome, now anyway, is largely irrelevant to the Heat in terms of salvaging the season’s won-lost record, since Miami is already resigned to missing the playoffs.
"At that time, when we played then, we were fighting," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "We were fighting for position and fighting for every inch. We filed a protest because we felt there was wrongdoing and we were awarded that and we will play it. That’s just the way it goes."
But the Hawks could pick up two wins Saturday night, since the teams will play a regularly scheduled game 15 minutes after the suspended matchup ends. Atlanta is one of seven teams in a cluster for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks are doing all they can to lure fans into their building early, offering discounted sodas and hot dogs and free swimsuit calendars to the first 3,000 people arriving for the game.
"I’m asking all Hawk fans to pack the building early, so we have the home-court advantage," Atlanta rookie Al Horford said in a video message on the team’s Web site. "We need the sixth man to get in and get loud."