“We’ve got seven games and hopefully we can come out 6-1—7-0 would be better, but 6-1 would be pretty good for us,” said Heat center Shaquille O’Neal, whose team is 7-9 on the road this season. “We’ve got to go out and do it. I think we can do it. It’s up to us.”
Miami beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 97-70 Sunday, allowing a season-low in points in winning for the fourth time in five games. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 19 points, O’Neal scored 16 and Alonzo Mourning added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The Heat are shooting 53 percent from the field over the last three games, and shot 8-for-15 from 3-point range against Minnesota. Miami outscored the Timberwolves 56-26 in the second half and held them to 23.5 percent shooting to improve to 8-3 since Pat Riley took over for Stan Van Gundy.
“We had a decent second quarter and the third quarter was probably the best defense, the most intense and correct defense that we have played probably this year,” Riley said. “The mentality was entirely different. I thought that just sort of propelled us.”
Miami announced Sunday that Riley signed a contract extension, but did not specify any terms of the deal, including whether it addressed his role as coach or team president.
The Heat also visit Phoenix, Portland, Golden State, Seattle, Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers on the 7,965-mile round trip. They will be checked into hotel rooms on 14 straight nights and don’t play another home game until hosting San Antonio on Jan. 20.
The Hornets won for just the second time in six games Monday, beating the Charlotte Bobcats 103-86.
“It was a big win for us,” said New Orleans point guard Chris Paul, who had 24 points and 11 assists. “We have Miami coming in on Wednesday, we lost two in row, so this was a big win for us.”
New Orleans coach Byron Scott pulled shooting guard J.R. Smith from the starting lineup against Charlotte and replaced him with Kirk Snyder. Smith, who is averaging 11.5 points and had started 20 straight games, didn’t play.
“I love J.R. like a son, this was a hard decision for me, but again I am the coach of this team and I have to do what is best for this team,” Scott said. “What I want to see out of J.R. is for him to go out and practice like Kirk and Arvydas (Macijauskas). He has to work harder, come in early and stay late.”
The Heat have won four straight and six of the last seven meetings in this series.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 3): Heat - 1st place, Southeast Division. Hornets - 4th place, 10 1/2 GB, Southwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Heat - Wade, 26.6 ppg and 6.7 apg; O’Neal, 9.1 rpg. Hornets - Paul, 16.6 ppg and 7.5 apg; Brown, 7.8 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Heat, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 15; Heat, 109-102 (OT). At Miami, Wade had 25 points and 10 assists, and Antoine Walker added 21 points off the bench for the Heat.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Heat - 7-9 on the road. Hornets - 8-6 at home.