Injuries haven’t helped Jermaine O’Neal’s All-Star candidacy, or the Indiana Pacers’ playoff chances. Dwyane Wade’s All-Star prospects were never in doubt, but the Miami Heat’s postseason hopes are essentially over.
With O’Neal still sidelined, the Pacers look to end their slump Saturday when they continue their season series against Wade and a Heat team that has lost 15 straight games.
O’Neal has missed four straight contests with a bruised left knee, and Indiana (19-25) has lost three of them. He is expected to be out at least two weeks.
The 6-foot-11 veteran has made six straight All-Star appearances, but that streak is in danger of ending this year. The starting forwards for the Eastern Conference are Boston’s Kevin Garnett and Cleveland’s LeBron James, and plenty of quality players at that position means O’Neal could be passed over when reserves are announced Thursday.
O’Neal has been Indiana’s top scorer in recent years, but forward Danny Granger now leads the team with 17.6 points per game. O’Neal, averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, also has missed 11 games due to what he acknowledged could be residual pain from offseason knee surgery.
Indiana, in a tight race for the eighth playoff spot in the East, could certainly use a healthy O’Neal. The Pacers have lost two straight and 12 of 16.
Indiana also was without starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley in a 104-92 loss to Milwaukee on Thursday night. Tinsley is day-to-day with a sore knee.
Travis Diener started in Tinsley’s place, finishing with 15 points and nine assists with one turnover in a career-high 40 minutes.
“Travis does a good job when he’s in there whether he’s playing 10 minutes or 40 minutes,” Pacers forward Mike Dunleavy said. “He knows how to play and pushes the ball to get guys involved. He’s capable of taking over the reins when we need him to.”
Wade, meanwhile, was sidelined because of knee rehab at the start of the season, but will start at the All-Star game on Feb. 17 thanks to 1,608,260 fan votes, easily the most among East guards. It will be Wade’s fourth straight appearance.
Miami (8-33) has lost 15 in a row, the second-longest skid in franchise history and two shy of the team record, but Wade’s numbers still rank among the league’s best. He’s averaging 25.0 points, 6.8 assists and 2.0 steals a contest.
That production, however, hasn’t stopped the Heat from falling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, two years after winning an NBA championship. Heat coach Pat Riley was happy to see the fans still recognize Wade’s outstanding play.
“His injuries and our record this year, that doesn’t have anything to do with those things,” Riley said. “The fact that he’s been playing hurt and has been playing the way he’s been playing all year, he’s right there with the elite players. The record doesn’t deter that.”
Wade had 27 points and nine assists against San Antonio on Thursday night, but lost the ball while driving for what could have been the winning basket with 3 seconds left in a 90-89 Miami loss.
The Heat again were without center Shaquille O’Neal, who has missed nine of the last 13 games and is expected to miss at least another 10 days while nursing hip and leg injuries. O’Neal, who has been selected to 14 consecutive All-Star teams - tying the record held by Karl Malone and Jerry West - finished second to Orlando’s Dwight Howard in this season’s balloting among centers. He could still make the team as a reserve.
O’Neal was held to averages of 10.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in Miami’s two games against Indiana this season, with the Heat losing both.
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