O’Neal hasn’t played at AmericanAirlines Arena since Nov. 12, when he re-injured his left knee in a collision with Chuck Hayes in Miami’s 94-72 loss to the Rockets. The All-Star center missed the next 35 games after undergoing surgery Nov. 17 and is still recovering.
O’Neal has been limited to 29 total minutes in two games since returning— road losses to Indiana on Wednesday and New York on Friday. The coaching staff held O’Neal out of the Heat’s 100-97 defeat at Chicago on Saturday to keep him from playing games on consecutive nights.
“He’s not ready to play back-to-backs. We have to be careful with that,” said acting coach Ron Rothstein, whose team is 19-25 and lost its third straight — all on the road—and sixth in eight games overall.
O’Neal started and scored 11 points in 15 minutes of a 116-96 defeat to the Knicks on Friday. The former NBA MVP criticized his teammates after the game, calling the Heat’s record “embarrassing.”
With O’Neal hurting, the defending NBA champions have relied on Dwyane Wade to carry them. Wade, averaging a team-best 28.4 points per game, had 24 on Saturday for his lowest scoring output in eight games.
“We were right there,” Wade said. “I think we tied it up, but they made the shots they had to.
“But we had a lot of chances. We’re an attacking team and the Bulls are known more as a shooting team and for them to have the free throws the way they did, it was tough.”
The Heat hope a return home will help them end their struggles. Miami won a season-high four in a row prior to this 2-6 stretch.
The Heat should have a chance to end their losing streak against the Bucks, whom they have beaten five straight times at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Milwaukee (18-26) looks to stop that skid, as well as a four-game road losing streak. Point guard Mo Williams returned Sunday from a shoulder injury and helped the Bucks snap a six-game overall slide, scoring 30 points and hitting the winning basket with 3.1 seconds left in a 107-105 victory over New York.
“The way things have been going lately, when I made it I thought we were going to overtime,” said Williams, who missed nine games. “We played too well today to get a moral victory.”
Milwaukee is 3-12 since winning a season-high six straight from Dec. 16-27. The funk has coincided with the loss of Williams and leading scorer Michael Redd (27.7 points per game) to a left knee injury during a Jan. 5 loss to Cleveland.
The Bucks are 2-9 without Redd, who’s expected to miss at least two more weeks.
Williams also had 10 rebounds in Sunday’s victory.