While the Portland Trail Blazers are struggling for the first time in over a month, the Miami Heat remain consistent losers.
The Trail Blazers look to bounce back from their second loss in three games Friday night when they conclude their season series with a Heat team that is showing no signs of improvement, even with Shaquille O'Neal back.
Portland's 112-106 win over Miami on Dec. 6 was the second victory of what turned into a 13-game winning streak. The Blazers (23-15) have gone 18-3 since starting the season 5-12.
Portland, though, has lost two of its last three games and is in danger of losing consecutive contests for the first time since a four-game skid from Nov. 26-Dec. 2.
A matchup with the lowly Heat (8-29), however, gives the Trail Blazers a good opportunity to get back on track. Miami has lost 11 straight, averaging 91.2 points per game while giving up 104.2 in that span.
"We lose every time," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "We lose and it's a fact of life. It's not easy."
Miami lost 126-96 to Chicago on Wednesday night despite O'Neal finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds in his return after an eight-game absence due to a hip injury. The Heat fell to 4-12 at home.
The Blazers, meanwhile, will be playing the middle game of a season-high seven-game road trip. Portland has won six of its last eight road games after losing its first nine, but lost at Boston 100-90 on Wednesday night.
It was a matchup Portland was anticipating, giving it a chance to gauge where it stood against a Celtics team with the NBA's best record. Carelessness hurt the Blazers, who committed 19 turnovers that led to 23 points for Boston.
Brandon Roy, who leads Portland with 19.1 points per game, had 22 against the Celtics, but turned the ball over four times.
"I don't think we believed we could beat them," Roy said. "We've been playing to win lately, but tonight I think we just came in to give them a good game.
The second-year guard had 25 points, six assists and five rebounds in December's matchup with the Heat.
O'Neal had just eight points and 10 rebounds in 22 foul-plagued minutes for Miami in that game. On Wednesday, he started for the first time since Dec. 26, when he aggravated a previous hip injury, but it wasn't enough for the Heat to earn their first win since beating Utah 104-102 on Dec. 22.
A sore left knee also has contributed to some of the worst production of O'Neal's 16-year career. He is averaging a career-low 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds.
O'Neal, though, believes Miami's struggles are based on poor defense. The Heat are allowing 100.1 points per game, and let the low-scoring Bulls set a new season high in points Wednesday.
"It's the same old thing, we just need to get it together," O'Neal said. "Offense is not a problem. We need to stop somebody."
Wade matched O'Neal's 24 points after finishing with 11 on 4-for-14 shooting in a loss to New Orleans last Friday. He is averaging 30.0 points, 6.0 assists and 2.5 steals in his last four games versus the Blazers.
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