The Miami Heat have been busy preparing for the stretch run of the regular season. However, their retooling has left them with a lot of uncertainties heading into the weekend.
The Eastern Conference-leading Heat might—or might not—unveil their retooled lineup as they host the Magic in the opener of a home-and-home series.
The Heat have played most of their last two games without star center Shaquille O’Neal, losing both in overtime. O’Neal injured his left knee in the first two minutes of Tuesday’s 105-101 defeat to the Chicago Bulls and sat out Wednesday’s 93-91 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The team said Thursday that an MRI exam confirmed a very mild sprain. O’Neal, who did not practice Friday, is listed as day-to-day, meaning he could be available Saturday. Team officials indicated that he would not play this weekend, but O’Neal told teammates he hopes to return.
O’Neal should have some help in the middle soon, as the Heat are on the verge of acquiring center Alonzo Mourning as a backup. Mourning practiced some with the team on Friday, but has yet to sign a deal.
Heat president Pat Riley said that the situation could change “minute to minute, hour to hour.” There is a small chance that he cold be in uniform in time for Saturday’s game.
To make room for Mourning, the Heat will likely buy out the contract of Wesley Person, who has played just 27 minutes since Dec. 4.
Miami also acquired guard Steve Smith from the Charlotte Bobcats for forward Malik Allen before Thursday’s trading deadline. Smith, Miami’s 1991 first-round draft pick who spent parts of four seasons with the Heat.
“We came in and got good work done today,” coach Stan Van Gundy said Friday. “We know what Orlando is going to do. The only thing that really changes for us is we play the game a lot different offensively if Shaq plays or if he doesn’t play, but nothing else changes in terms of your preparation.”
Dwyane Wade scored 38 points Wednesday for the Heat, who had won seven straight before their two-game slide. Wade, who has scored in double figures a career-high 31 straight games, was one point shy of the career high he set in November.
The Magic are coming off their worst defeat of the season, 108-84 to the Pacers on Tuesday. Jameer Nelson scored a team-high 15 points for Orlando, which has lost five of eight.
Steve Francis, who was fined an undisclosed amount for missing a practice, had a season-low six points and one assist. He shot just 2-for-10 and had four turnovers.
“The fact that a key player wasn’t there, it was a distraction. There’s no getting around that,” coach Johnny Davis said.