While offering rare praise for Jerome James (“if my memory bank serves me correctly, his nine points and three rebounds in 14 minutes Friday night were his biggest splurge that didn’t involve food spending since sprinkling the Sonics with his special seasoning,”) and the 9-1 (!) Utah Jazz (“people are taking notice. Yesterday, Robert Redford called to say he’s moving the Sundance Film Festival into Carlos Boozer’s basement,”), the New York Post’s Peter Vescey surveys the Shaqless Heat.

Dwyane Wade’s carefree evenings are kaput. For a minimum of a month – probably two, maybe more – he must all but manufacture Miami’s moldy, oldie offense by his lonesome.

Combine the Heat’s sole dependency on Wade with the fact the team lacks young legs, fast feet and an aptitude/appetite to force turnovers on a consistent basis, and you’ve got the same conditions that existed last season when Shaq missed 18 games early on. It was a season in which Stan Van Gundy managed to maintain equilibrium, er, mediocrity, until Riley resurrected himself and navigated the crest.

Circumstances have changed since then and probably the roster should have been shuffled accordingly. Instead, Riley reconvened the core (minus Derek and Shandon Anderson) and is proud of it.

Riley feels the team earned the right to defend its throne. While the noble gesture deserves praise, a strong case also can be made against it. Riley either ignored or rejected Shaq’s fragility, Wade’s durability (following a summer of being in demand on and off the court) the Heat’s liabilities and human nature.

Keep in mind, Poison Pete is expressing very similar sentiments to those of the New York Sun’s Martin Johnson, as published over a month ago.

Henry Abbott claims this guy is somehow associated with the unsavory Zach Randolph. I dunno, anyone who says they want to meet “POSITIVE FOLKS MOTIVATED TO GET MONEY AND HELP IMPROVE OUR CHILDREN AND COMMUNITY.AND THOSE WHO LOVE TO HAVE A GOOD TIME WHATEVER YOU DO,” sounds like a solid citizen to me.

Though there’s not much evidence other than this Houston Chronicle report by Jonathan Feigen, Bonzi Wells is still in the NBA.

Clumsy F Andrea Bargnani “has no resemblence to Steve Nash,” writes the Toronto Sun’s Mike Koreen, but not only is Raptors coach Sam Mitchell exceedingly patient, he’s happy to remind us he had a playing career, too.

Last night, in the wake of a five-foul six-minute performance for Bargnani in Los Angeles against the Lakers, the Raptors coach stuck to the rookie theme, albeit in more entertaining fashion.

“There is no pill you can give him,” Mitchell said before the Raptors faced the Nuggets in Denver last night. “Sometimes you need to get your butt kicked. That’s just part of growing up in the NBA or any professional sport. You get it handed to you some nights and you learn from it. You look forward to that day when you’re going to be on the other end giving the butt whippings, instead of getting them. All rookies. I remember Kobe Bryant getting his butt whipped. I gave him a couple of (beatings) his first year and I wasn’t no great player, but I just knew how to play.”

Brad Buckman Update : the former Longhorns standout scored 21 points in his pro debut yesterday, as the D-League’s Austin Toros dropped a 118-94 decision in Fort Worth. The Toros open their sophmore campaign next Friday night with a visit to defending champs Albuquerque, a team currently getting schooled by the Chinese National squad. It’s been quite a trip to China for the T-Birds’ Tony Bland, who has sampled a rich assortment of that country’s cultural offerings (McDonald’s, Popeye’s, Jennifer Garner’s “13 Going On 30” on the hotel TV, etc.)