Wade and the Heat (4-5) look to continue adjusting to life without their star center when they visit the streaking New Orleans Hornets (7-3) on Tuesday night.
O’Neal had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee Sunday and will be out four to six weeks. The 34-year-old O’Neal, who missed two games earlier in the season with a bruised knee, averaged 14.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in four games this season.
The Heat went 10-23 without O’Neal last season before he returned to help their run to the NBA title. Miami is 2-3 without him this season, but did manage to snap a three-game losing streak Saturday in their third consecutive game with O’Neal sidelined, beating Atlanta 93-88 in overtime.
Wade, who leads the team with 27.2 points per game, had 37 for the second time in three games. He hit 11 of 25 field-goal attempts, went 14-of-17 from the free-throw line and had nine assists and seven rebounds
“A lot more is going to come on me,” said Wade, who scored 20 of Miami’s 42 first-half points. “Most of the time when (O’Neal’s) playing, he may get 40 or 50 touches and I may get 40 or 50. When he’s out, I get more.”
The Heat could use more big games from Wade, as they rank last in the NBA with 89.3 points per game. After O’Neal, Udonis Haslem ranks second on the team with 13.6 points per contest. He had 21 against the Hawks.
“That’s what they pay him for—scoring and making plays,” teammate Gary Payton said of Wade. “He did what he gets paid for. He did fine.”
Payton left the game in the third quarter after banging his left knee, but is not expected to miss any time.
The Hornets (7-3) have won three straight, including Saturday’s 99-96 win at Minnesota. Second-year guard Chris Paul scored a career-best 35 points, and Peja Stojakovic hit the winning 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left.
“He’s a task,” Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett said of Paul. “We knew he was going to have the ball in his hands the majority of the time. … You keep him under control, you keep the team under control.”
Forward David West, third on the Hornets with 17.4 points and second with 8.3 rebounds, has missed the last three games with an injured forearm.
Tyson Chandler, the team leader with 10.8 rebounds per game, returned to the lineup Saturday after missing the previous game with a concussion and had four points and six boards in just over 28 minutes. Fellow forward Marc Jackson made his season debut after sitting out the start of the season with a strained hamstring and had six points in over 14 minutes.
“It’s good to be almost healthy,” coach Byron Scott said.
New Orleans beat Miami 107-92 on Jan. 4 in the teams’ most recent meeting, ending a four-game losing streak in the series.