A six-game road trip couldn't have come at a worse time for the struggling Miami Heat.

Miami looks to avoid losing five in a row for the first time in nearly three years Friday when it opens the trip against the streaking Phoenix Suns.

The Heat (13-18) dropped their fourth straight and fell a season-worst five games under .500 with Wednesday's 110-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The defeat came just hours after coach Pat Riley began an indefinite leave of absence because of knee and hip problems.

Star guard Dwyane Wade missed his third straight game with a sprained right wrist, and Shaquille O'Neal - who has played just four games because of a knee injury - will likely not return until later this month. Making matters worse, forwards Antoine Walker and James Posey were deactivated because their body fat levels are 1 percent over team orders.

Walker and Posey will not accompany the Heat to Phoenix, but could join the team sometime during the road trip.

"There's no magic wands," interim coach Ron Rothstein said. "I haven't found one. Been searching a long time."

Jason Kapono had a team-high 19 points and Alonzo Mourning and rookie Robert Hite added 16 Wednesday for the Heat, who haven't lost five in a row since Feb. 2-10, 2004.

"It wasn't a very good effort on our part," said Rothstein, who also coached Miami for its first three seasons. "We can do better than that, and we need to do better than that. We'll work hard to do better than that. That's not acceptable. Take nothing away from the Clippers, but you just can't let people shoot in your face all night."

The Suns (23-8), on the other hand, have won four straight and own the second-best record in the NBA behind Dallas.

"Looking at that game and looking at the way they're playing and looking at the way we're playing ... wow," Rothstein said.

O'Neal and Wade (wisdom teeth) were both out on Dec. 13 when Phoenix won 99-89 at Miami, but this time around, the Heat have even bigger problems.

"There's been a negative funk over the whole team for a while," center Michael Doleac said. "And I think the first thing we've got to do is just get positive again, start enjoying playing basketball and being around each other. We're playing a game here and it doesn't feel like that at times."

The Suns are coming off Wednesday's 100-98 win in Toronto. Steve Nash scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter for Phoenix, which won all three games on its road trip.

"That was a struggle for me," Nash said. "Physically I didn't feel great and I didn't play great, but my teammates did a great job of sticking with it and I just tried to be there for them in the fourth quarter."

Phoenix is 22-3 since starting the season 1-5 and 13-1 against the Eastern Conference this season. The Suns have won their last three matchups with the Heat and are 11-3 in the series at home since the 1991-92 season.


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