After proving they can win without one of the league’s top players, the Heat hope to have their leading scorer back in the lineup when they conclude a five-game trip against the Los Angeles Clippers.
One night after a 122-107 loss at Phoenix, which has the NBA’s best record, the Heat rebounded Wednesday with a 98-91 victory over Golden State despite Wade’s absence.
Wade, eighth in the league with 23.8 points per game, sat out with a combination of injuries, including sore ribs, a bad back, knee and ankle.
While Wade didn’t want to miss the game, Miami coach Stan Van Gundy felt it was for the best with the Heat playing the second of back-to-back games.
“They know that I’ll play no matter what, so I have to agree with them this time and just take it day by day,” Wade said.
Wade hasn’t been limping noticeably since colliding with Brad Miller in Sacramento on Dec. 23, but lately the guard has seemed more affected by the injury.
“He’s just not comfortable out there, as you can see,” Van Gundy said. “He’s just a little bit tentative, doesn’t really want to explode, and I think it’s getting worse. So hopefully we can get him back for Friday night.”
Miami improved to 10-14 without Wade the past two seasons.
O’Neal’s performance was even more impressive because he was playing with a red right eye after he was poked in Tuesday’s loss.
“I had a headache every time I looked to the right,” O’Neal said. “This was a game we needed. We lost two in a row and didn’t want to make it three in a row.”
O’Neal is averaging 29.0 points while shooting 68.5 percent from the field over his last six games.
Although Miami has the best record in the Eastern Conference, it is only 8-8 against the West, where most of the league’s best teams reside.
“It’s a natural phenomenon,” Van Gundy said. “Unless you have Phoenix’s record, people are going to be looking for something.”
The Clippers proved they can beat one of the league’s elite teams with a 102-93 victory over visiting Seattle on Wednesday.
Corey Maggette had 31 points and 10 rebounds and Darrick Martin made three clutch shots in the final 2:21, helping Los Angeles salvage the back end of a home-and-home series with the Sonics, owners of the NBA’s fourth-best record.
The Clippers won the season series with Seattle for the first time since 1989-90 by taking two of three, including a 114-84 victory on opening night.
“It gives our team a lot of confidence,” said Elton Brand, who had 19 points. “It also says we are growing and that we can match up with just about any team if we play our defensive sets right.”
At 17-17, the Clippers have their best record after 34 games since the 2001-02 team was 18-16.