The Heat rolled into the break with 23 wins in their last 33 games after opening the season 10-10. With the return of center Shaquille O’Neal from injury and coach Pat Riley to the bench from the front office, Miami has built a comfortable lead in the Southeast Division.
O’Neal missed 18 games with an ankle injury, sitting out most of November and part of December. He has gradually regained his form since coming back, topping the 20-point mark in 11 of his last 13 contests and averaging 19.4 points and 9.3 rebounds in 35 games this season.
Riley’s move back to the bench also seemed to spark the Heat after the December resignation of former coach Stan Van Gundy, and Miami is poised to continue its hot play with its next six games coming against teams with losing records.
“We have a three-game winning streak and guys are playing good. Shaq and myself are getting into the flow,” guard Dwyane Wade said after recording 36 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to help the Heat knock off Orlando 110-100 last Wednesday.
Wade’s stellar play has allowed the Heat to keep winning when O’Neal has been hurting or off his game. The All-Star center managed only seven points and 11 rebounds against the Magic before fouling out with 27.6 seconds remaining.
Miami will be looking for its third straight victory over the Knicks in New York.
After suffering through a 10-game losing streak, the Knicks managed to end the slide before the break, beating Toronto 98-96 last Wednesday. New York was two defeats shy of tying the franchise record for consecutive losses.
“Winning is the cure-all,” said Jalen Rose, who had 17 points. “Sometimes when you’re losing things aren’t as bad as they seem. Sometimes when you’re winning things are not as good. It’s only one game but hopefully it’s something we can build on.”
Trade rumors continue to swirl around the Knicks, who have dropped 16 of their last 18 overall and five in a row to the Heat.
Point guard Stephon Marbury, who has missed nine straight games with a shoulder injury, is expected to return after the break, although whether that will happen Wednesday is uncertain.