Kobe Bryant will avoid Shaquille O'Neal again, but he might want to stay closer to Dwyane Wade this time.

O'Neal's knee injury will keep him out of another showdown with Bryant, who may again be asked to slow down Wade when the Los Angeles Lakers conclude their season series with the Miami Heat on Monday.

Miami (17-19) will be without O'Neal, who will miss his second game against his former team this season as he rebuilds the strength in his left knee. On Thursday, O'Neal practiced for the first time since tearing cartilage in the knee Nov. 12.

O'Neal, though, is not yet healthy enough to take the court and add to his rivalry with Bryant, with whom he won three NBA titles while the two were teammates for Los Angeles (24-13).

Heat coach Pat Riley, who won four titles coaching the Lakers in the 1980s, is also out indefinitely while he recovers from hip surgery.

Thanks to Wade's stellar play, however, the Heat have extended their longest winning streak of the season to four games.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence. We've got our so-called swagger back," said Wade, who led Miami with 32 points and 10 assists in a 119-110 win over Utah on Saturday.

Wade was outstanding in a Christmas Day matchup with Bryant and the Lakers. He had 40 points and 11 assists with Bryant guarding him much of the time as Miami won 101-85.

Wade made 12 of 20 shots from the floor, 15 of 16 from the line, added four steals, four rebounds and four blocks. He often took advantage of screens, blowing by Bryant for easy baskets.

Bryant, meanwhile, missed his first six shots, finished 4-for-17 from the floor and had 16 points, marking his third-worst scoring game of the season.

Bryant wasn't guarded by Wade, though, as Heat swingman Dorell Wright stayed with the Lakers star for most of the game. It's uncertain if Wright will be used in the same role this time around.

Bryant is averaging 30.8 points in six head-to-head meetings with Wade, who has averaged 26.3 in the same games -- four of them Heat victories.

Defending NBA champion Miami is 4-1 on its six-game road trip, and 4-2 since Ron Rothstein took over as interim coach for the ailing Riley.

"We've done a pretty good job of circling the wagons and covering for one another and now we're starting to see the results," Rothstein said.

Jason Williams scored 20 points for Miami on Saturday and Jason Kapono added 18, going 4 of 5 from 3-point range as the Heat pulled within four games of first-place Orlando in the Southeast Division.

"We're making shots. We're getting good shots," Rothstein said. "We're starting to develop a real confidence in what we can do and that goes a long way."

The Lakers improved to 17-4 at home with a 109-106 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

Bryant scored 16 of his 28 points in the final 6:44 to lead Los Angeles, which barely avoided its first three-game losing streak of the season.

"That's Kobe being Kobe," Smush Parker told the Los Angeles Times' Web site. "He put his cape on and saved us again."

Bryant suffered a mild groin injury in a loss to Houston on Wednesday, but said he felt fine Friday as he added eight rebounds and seven assists.


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