Daily Confidential

The Miami Heat may not have expected their NBA title defense to be so difficult. They hope a return home Monday to face the struggling Toronto Raptors can start a turnaround.

The Heat (8-11) have alternated wins and losses in their last six games, including a 123-107 loss at Denver on Friday in which they allowed a season high in points.

``It wasn't our night,'' Heat coach Pat Riley said. ``They shot lights out in the first half. I think it was more or less the shots they were making and how many they made consecutively from outside had a tendency to really shock you. It took us out of what we wanted to do.''

The loss ended a four-game road trip and came a day after a 93-91 overtime win at Sacramento.

The Heat might welcome a return home for four of the next five games, but they have struggled there this season, going 3-6 and dropping five of their last six games. They are scoring 88.0 points at home this season after averaging 102.4 with a 31-10 mark there in 2005-06 en route to their first NBA title.

Much of Miami's struggles have come without Shaquille O'Neal, who will miss his 14th consecutive game Monday after undergoing left knee surgery on Nov. 17. The star center is not expected back until Dec. 23 at the earliest.

O'Neal's absence has pushed Alonzo Mourning into the starting lineup, and the 36-year-old center had 10 points with seven rebounds Friday.

Mourning has filled in admirably in the 13 games without Shaq, scoring 10.7 points per game and while averaging 6.9 rebounds.

Dwyane Wade, who had 21 points and 14 assists against Denver, continues to lead the Heat's offense. The 24-year-old point guard leads Miami with 27.5 points and 8.2 assists. No other player on the roster is averaging more than 14 points per game.

Wade averaged 34.0 points, 6.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds in three games against Toronto last season.

The Heat have won six of their last seven games against the Raptors, including the last three in Miami. They hope to capitalize on the absence of Toronto's leading scorer Chris Bosh, who has already missed one game due to a bruised left knee and is not expected back until Friday.

Without Bosh, the Raptors (7-13) lost 93-83 to Portland on Sunday - their third straight defeat.

``This was a game we should have won. We should have come out and had more energy,'' Raptors point guard T.J. Ford said. ``They just outplayed us and outworked us.''

The losing streak is Toronto's longest since a season-high six-game slide Nov. 10-20.

Toronto is 2-10 on the road, where it has struggled defensively. The Raptors are allowing 101.9 points away from the Air Canada Centre.

Andrea Bargnani is expected to get his second consecutive start in place of Bosh. The top selection in this year's draft, Bargnani had eight points and four rebounds Sunday in his first start for Toronto. The 21-year-old Italian native is averaging 8.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19 games.

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