O’Neal underwent surgery to repair torn left knee cartilage Nov. 19 and has missed the last 34 games. The 13-time All-Star has practiced and gone through conditioning drills in recent days, and said he will return when he is “1,000 percent.”
O’Neal averaged 20.0 points and 9.2 rebounds last season as the Heat (18-22) averaged the sixth-most points (99.9) and led the league in rebounds (43.1).
This season, Miami is 22nd in scoring (95.6 points) and 15th in rebounding (41.1) without its big center. The Heat have lost two straight and three of their last four following a season-high four-game winning streak.
The Heat lost to Dallas 99-93 on Sunday in the first matchup between the teams since last season’s NBA finals.
Miami was outrebounded 48-35 on Sunday as the Heat once again struggled to establish a presence around the glass without O’Neal.
“That’s the bottom line,” Miami interim coach Ron Rothstein said. “If we held our ground there I think I would be sitting up here really happy with a win.”
Dwyane Wade—who suffered a left ankle injury in the first quarter, but returned and played 44 minutes—finished with 31 points, six rebounds and six assists for Miami, but missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left.
Wade is averaging 30.4 points in his last eight games after missing his previous four with a sprained right wrist.
He had just 20 points in the Heat’s 100-76 loss to the Knicks (18-24) on Nov. 17, as Miami shot just 36.3 percent from the floor while New York shot 51.9 percent.
The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak over the Knicks, and Wade is averaging 27.3 points in his last seven games against New York.
O’Neal had 33 points in two games against the Knicks last season, and averaged 14.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in the four games he played this season before the surgery.
New York held on for a 108-106 victory over Indiana on Saturday after absorbing consecutive one-point losses.
The Knicks were up by 11 points with just over a minute remaining, and nearly gave the game away as they were called for a travel and over-and-back allowing the Pacers to cut into their lead.
“It was evident that we definitely needed this win,” said Quentin Richardson, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds. “I’m just upset with the way we won. But at this point, we’ll take any win that we can get.”
Richardson is averaging 20.3 points and 8.5 boards in his last six games after missing 11 games with back spasms. He averaged just 13.2 points and 7.0 rebounds in 24 games before his injury.
Eddy Curry had 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting on Saturday, and has been leading New York’s recent turnaround on the road.
Curry is averaging 24.5 points on 72.0 percent shooting in his last four road games, as the Knicks have won three of those contests, after they won just five of their first 16 games away from Madison Square Garden.
“When Eddy (Curry) has it going like he did there for awhile, it gives us the confidence that we have someone we know we can go to and pretty much guarantee a basket,” said David Lee, who had 20 points and 16 rebounds against Indiana.
New York has not won consecutive games over Miami since Dec. 27 and 30, 2003.