Los Angeles (14-17) at Miami (13-17)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Miami, FL
Temp: 83° F
  • Game info: 7:30 pm EST Wed Jan 3, 2007
  • TV: PRIME, SUN
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The Miami Heat’s championship luster seemed to be fading without stars Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. Not having Pat Riley could only make it worse.

Unsure if Wade will return Wednesday, the Heat now begin what could be a lengthy stretch without Riley on the bench as they try to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss in a home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The 61-year-old Riley said Wednesday he is taking an indefinite leave of absence because of ongoing hip and knee problems. Top assistant Ron Rothstein will take over as interim coach.

Riley, who led the Heat to their first NBA championship over the summer, often walks with a limp and has been on medication for the hip. His condition apparently worsened in recent weeks, and he will undergo knee surgery Friday.

“I’m just tired of the pain and the medication,” Riley said. “I’m going to be displaced for a while, but not disconnected at all.”

Wade’s return is still uncertain after missing consecutive games with a strained right wrist suffered in a loss at Chicago on Dec. 27.

“Teams know that we don’t have a loaded gun and they are taking advantage of that,” Heat center Alonzo Mourning said.

Miami (13-17) lost both games without Wade, including a listless 97-68 defeat to Orlando on Saturday in which the Heat shot 34.3 percent from the field and were outrebounded 46-33. A loss Wednesday would be their fourth straight, matching their longest skid of last season.

O’Neal, meanwhile, will miss his 25th consecutive game Wednesday after undergoing knee surgery on Nov. 17. He could return on Jan. 15, when the Heat conclude a road trip against one of O’Neal’s former teams, the Los Angeles Lakers.

With O’Neal sidelined, Mourning has started in his place and averaged 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in 26 starts. But the 14-year veteran struggled in the paint Saturday, scoring nine points while being outrebounded 10-1 by the Magic’s Dwight Howard.

“They don’t want to admit it in there, but we just got manhandled, absolutely manhandled on the boards, in the paint,” Riley said. “Defensively, they were up and into us and we could never really get anything going at all.”

The Heat also announced they have deactivated forwards Antoine Walker and James Posey for this game because they failed to meet a team conditioning goal. Walker and Posey might be back as soon as Friday in Phoenix, but could face suspension by Jan. 15 if the undisclosed goal is not met.

Miami could get a boost if Wade—the team’s leading scorer at 27.5 points per game—can play against the Clippers in the second of two meetings this season. The team embarks on a season-high six-game road trip against Western Conference clubs starting Friday at Phoenix.

Wade scored 33 points against Los Angeles in a 101-97 loss on Dec. 5. However, the Heat have gone 9-2 at home against the Clippers since Dec. 29, 1994, and not been swept in a season series since 2002-03.

The Clippers (14-17) have not fared well on the road, dropping to 2-11 after opening a six-game road trip with a 91-86 loss at Orlando on Tuesday. Only Memphis, which has a NBA-worst 2-16 road record is below Los Angeles, which has been outscored by an average of 14.2 points in its road losses.

Tuesday’s defeat halted the Clippers’ modest three-game winning streak that was accumulated at home.

But there may be some optimism heading into this game for the Clippers, who picked up both their road wins when the opponents’ starting centers have been out due to injury. Los Angeles defeated Memphis 89-82 on Dec. 9 as the Grizzlies were without Pau Gasol, and its 98-93 win over Houston on Dec. 23 came after Yao Ming left early with a knee injury.

The Clippers hope their frontcourt of forwards Elton Brand, Tim Thomas and center Chris Kaman can capitalize on Shaq’s absence. The trio shot a combined 15-of-19 (78.9 percent) from the field in the first half on Tuesday before having making only 4 of 17 (23.5 percent) in the final two quarters.

“In the first half, we had it going, in the second half we didn’t,” Thomas said. “Our turnovers were creating easy points for them.”

Brand, the team’s leading scorer with 19.5 points per game, struggled with 15 points and seven rebounds while committing six turnovers against the Magic.

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Wednesday, Jan 3