Piedmont Natural Gas (NYSE:PNY) produced a Shaquille O'Neal-like performance when it slam-dunked earnings projections for its second quarter.

The company reported second-quarter earnings of $1.08 per share, which easily surpassed the consensus estimate of $1.01 and last year's earnings per share of $0.93. Thanks to customer growth and an acquisition, Piedmont's system throughput in the second quarter was 58 million dekatherms, compared to the nearly 43 million dekatherms it produced last year.

Piedmont's acquisition and integration strategy, combined with successful joint ventures and positive internal customer growth, has been a "straightforward formula that is working well for our investors," according to Chairman, President, and CEO Thomas E. Skains. The company reaffirmed its fiscal 2004 EPS guidance range of $2.35 to $2.45 per share, but it emphasized that the final number is leaning toward the upper end of the range.

Rising oil prices have generally benefited nonregulated energy services companies, although utilities have had less leeway to profit from OPEC's actions. To prove this point, energy services companies such as Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) and Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) have had some difficulties, but SCANA (NYSE:SCG) recently reaffirmed its earnings forecast.

After a subpar performance last night at the hands of the Pistons, the Lakers hope to breeze through the remainder of the NBA Finals with the ease of Piedmont stock, which is continuing to respond positively to rising energy prices. The company has positioned itself to take advantage of current trends, and this upward pattern should continue for the foreseeable future.

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Fool contributor Phil Wohl spent more than 12 years on Wall Street and now concentrates his writing on more fictional characters. He has no stake in any firm mentioned above.