A severe injury to Alonzo Mourning leaves the Heat without O’Neal’s top backup as they try to bounce back from a loss to the best team in the Eastern Conference by beating its worst, the Charlotte Bobcats.
Despite 27 points from O’Neal in his return after a one-game absence because of a sprained right thumb, Miami blew a 12-point lead in the second half and lost 82-73 to Detroit on Wednesday.
The defeat dropped the Heat 9 1/2 games behind the Pistons for the East’s best record.
Maybe a bigger blow to Miami, however, was losing Mourning in the second quarter to what was believed to be a torn calf muscle. He left the arena with a boot on his leg and the Heat are concerned he will miss the rest of the regular season.
“I don’t know the exact prognosis, but it’s not very good,” coach Pat Riley said.
Besides being one of Miami’s top defensive players and among the league leaders with 2.7 blocks per game, Mourning provides much-needed relief for O’Neal off the bench. O’Neal played a season-high 43 minutes Wednesday, and now will be backed up by little-used veteran Michael Doleac.
“It’s going to be very tough without him,” O’Neal said. “But Dolie will step up and ‘Zo can get some rest and come back strong.”
Dwyane Wade hopes to come back strong after being held to a season-low 13 points in the loss to Detroit. He did have nine assists, but shot 3-of-15 from the field and committed five turnovers.
“I missed some shots that I normally make, and they really pressured me,” he said. “It was tough, but when we play them again in April, we’ll have some counters for what they were doing tonight.”
It was the second time in five days Wade, the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer, failed to score 20 points. He had 15 on Saturday against Chicago, but scored at least 30 in the next two games.
Wade will look to help Miami avoid a third straight defeat, which would be the team’s longest losing streak since a season-high four-game skid from Dec. 3-9.
Charlotte also is dealing with injury problems, having played without top scorer Gerald Wallace and assists leader Brevin Knight in a 120-118 overtime loss to Cleveland on Wednesday. It’s uncertain if Wallace (calf) or Knight (groin) will return for this game.
Even without those key players, the Bobcats hung tough playing on the road against the Cavs, but were done in by LeBron James. He found Flip Murray for the game-tying 3-pointer as time expired in regulation and hit the winning jumper with 0.9 seconds left in overtime.
Rookie Raymond Felton led six Charlotte scorers in double figures with 30 points, including the team’s final 10. Felton added 10 assists and five steals.
“I had it going,” Felton said, “but LeBron is one of a kind.”
It was the fifth loss in six games for the Bobcats, who own the league’s worst record—a game below New York.
“That basketball game will stick in your crow for a long time and you’re crying for a long time, for the simple reason it was a game that was lost because of an omission, not commission,” coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. “So, it’s going to stick for a while.”