With O’Neal expected back in the lineup, the Heat hope to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season and end a five-game skid in Philadelphia when they visit the 76ers in a potential first-round playoff preview.
Philadelphia, trying to keep its weak hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, lost 105-98 to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday despite the return of Iverson and Webber.
Iverson had 28 points after missing one game with two sprained thumbs. Webber returned after sitting out five games with a sprained left shoulder, but wasn’t much of a factor, finishing with eight points and seven rebounds.
“Something’s got to change,” Webber said. “Hopefully, it will get better soon.”
O’Neal, who missed three games and was unable to eat for several days because of a stomach virus, practiced on Tuesday and should play Thursday when Miami opens a five-game, seven-day run to end the regular season.
Miami has locked up the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage in the East, but has lost five of its last nine games, including its third two-game losing streak of the season.
Another loss Thursday would give the Heat their longest losing streak since Feb. 23-March 2, 2004, when they dropped four straight, and mark their sixth straight defeat in Philadelphia. Miami’s last road win over the 76ers was on March 20, 2002.
“We kind of want to work him back in, get our timing back down with the Big Fella,” Miami forward Udonis Haslem said. “And also, we want to go into the playoffs on a good note, just have everything rolling. We’ve got everybody back. It’s time to get back on track.”
With O’Neal, the Heat had been unbeatable for weeks.
Since Feb. 3, excluding the game in Chicago where O’Neal played less than two minutes because of an injury, Miami is 20-0 with its usual starting five— Dwyane Wade, O’Neal, Damon Jones, Haslem and Eddie Jones—winning those contests by an average of 13.5 points.
Alonzo Mourning, who started in place of O’Neal on Sunday, had 10 points, a season-high 14 rebounds and five blocked shots but the Heat’s franchise-record 18-game home winning streak ended with an 80-72 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Miami’s final five games include three against playoff teams, starting in Philadelphia, where the 76ers have already beaten the Heat once this season.
Philadelphia likely blew its chance to catch Boston for the Atlantic Division title with Tuesday’s loss. Now the 76ers hope to hang on to the final playoff berth in the East. They are one game behind the seventh-place Cleveland Cavaliers, and 1 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place New Jersey.
“It’s about as disappointing as it gets,” said Iverson, who added 11 assists.
The Sixers are 12-10 since acquiring Webber, including 9-8 with the five-time All-Star in the lineup.