Shaquille O’Neal appears to be getting more comfortable in each of the five games he’s played since missing 35 after undergoing knee surgery. He had 22 points in 21 minutes in the Heat’s 113-93 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday.
O’Neal’s improvement, combined with continued strong play from reigning NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, has Miami (23-25) closing in on the .500 mark for the first time since opening the season 3-3. The Heat currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We had a little team meeting the other day, and we decided that we needed to either be at .500 or one game above .500 right before the All-Star break,” O’Neal said. “We’ve been playing pretty good team basketball, sharing the ball very well.”
O’Neal scored a combined 16 points in his first two games back. After sitting out the next two, he’s scored 58 points in just under 70 minutes in his last three.
“We have been anticipating Shaq coming back for a while,” Wade said. “We knew it was going to take him time to get back into form. He is getting back quicker than a lot of us expected. Early on, we are trying to use him as much as possible. He is doing a great job with passing out of the post and getting guys open shots.”
Wade had 27 points and 12 assists on Monday for his 15th double-double of the season, one off his career high of 16 from each of the last two seasons. He is averaging 32.0 points and 8.5 assists during the Heat’s four-game winning streak.
Boston (12-35) will again try to stop its franchise-record 15-game losing streak. The Celtics’ swoon continued Tuesday with a 109-102 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Ryan Gomes had 19 points and Boston shot 56.0 percent from the field, marking the first time they made half their shots since their last win, 128-119 at Memphis on Jan. 5. However, the Pistons shot 72.2 percent in the second half and finished at 57.9 for the game.
“We really didn’t have a chance,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers. “We played a better team tonight. They had some matchup advantages, and they went right at us.”
Paul Pierce, Boston’s leading scorer who has missed 23 games with a foot injury, traveled with the team to Detroit but was sent home Tuesday because of swelling in his left elbow. Pierce will be forced to spend at least two days in the hospital, likely pushing back his return until after the All-Star break.
Boston is 2-21 without Pierce in the lineup.
Wednesday is the first meeting between the two teams this season. Miami went 3-1 against Boston in 2005-06, but the Celtics won 85-78 in the most recent meeting, on April 19 at TD Banknorth Garden.