The Miami Heat wanted to get back to .500 by the All-Star break, and now they’re one win away from achieving their goal.
The defending champions look to extend their season-high five-game winning streak Friday when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Heat (24-25) surpassed their previous high of four straight wins with Wednesday’s 91-79 victory over the slumping Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade had 30 points and nine assists for Miami, which has not been at .500 since it was 3-3 on Nov. 12.
“Going into the All-Star break we either wanted to be at .500 or one or two over,” said Shaquille O’Neal, who had nine points, four rebounds and four blocks in 25 minutes. “So, we know what we have to do.
“These last five games we’ve been playing pretty good. Shooting the ball very well, you know, playing good defense. We’re just doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Wade was one assist shy of matching his career high with his 16th double-double of the season, but did score at least 20 points in a franchise-record 16th straight game.
“We are defending champs, so we’ve got some talent. And if we get healthy and guys get together and get in decent shape, then we’re a pretty good team,” coach Ron Rothstein said.
O’Neal, who is recovering from knee surgery that caused him to miss more than two months, has averaged 16.8 points in just over 23 minutes per contest in his last four games. The Heat, who currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, are hoping a healthy O’Neal can help the team surge up the standings.
“The good thing about being in this conference is that no one really has a substantial lead,” O’Neal said. “I think we’re five or six games out of first. So there is a lot of room for improvement on our part. There is a lot of room for mistakes, too.
“So our goal is to not make it into the playoffs, but to get some type of home court advantage.”
The Heat trail the Cavaliers (28-21) by four games in the East. Cleveland won for the fourth time in seven games on Wednesday, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 94-77 despite just 11 points from star LeBron James.
James made just four of 13 shots and was more than 15 points below his season average. He’s averaged only 16.8 points in four games this month.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to score and get stops when LeBron doesn’t have one of his normal nights,” coach Mike Brown said. “It’s kind of been by committee.”
James and teammate Larry Hughes said the Cavs should be playing a more uptempo game after a 90-78 loss to Detroit on Sunday, and Cleveland did speed up its offense on occasion against the Clippers.
“It’s no secret that I like to play that way,” said Hughes, who had 15 points. “I like to get up and run. So whenever we can get out and attack a team from start to finish, I think it works best in our favor.”
Miami beat Cleveland 92-89 last Thursday in the first meeting between the teams. Wade had 41 points, including 24 in the fourth quarter as the Heat came back from a 12-point deficit with less than eight minutes left.
James, bothered by a sprained right toe, had 17 points in 36 minutes. It was the Cavs’ seventh loss in their last nine games against Miami, though they’ve won the last two meetings in Cleveland.