Baptism by fire: Heat’s injuries force new players to step up
MIAMI — For teams in transition like the Miami Heat, initial adversity can have the ancillary affect of the roster banding together to become a stronger unit down the line.
In this case, the setbacks have been mostly internal due to so many injuries to key players. Dwyane Wade hasn’t played in two weeks because of a pesky hamstring injury, Norris Cole has been recently bothered by a dislocated middle finger on his left hand and Chris Andersen suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday. And those are just the most recent injuries.
Chris Bosh could only laugh when asked about the Heat’s misfortune with injuries to begin the season and when he could recall a time when the team was healthy.
"Yeah, first day of training camp," he said. "Then Josh (McRoberts) closed out and his back went out, I think two minutes into training camp and that was the last time we were at full strength."
He’s not exaggerating. Since opening day it’s been a revolving door of players in and out of the lineup. Heat newcomers Danny Granger (hamstring) and McRoberts, who was dealing with not just his back but recuperating from his offseason toe surgery, were unable to play. Then Udonis Haslem (quadriceps) and Andersen (bruised ribs) were out just days later, which was followed up by another hit to their power rotation when Justin Hamilton sustained a hip injury. The young big man also had a minor heart ailment that required surgery during training camp.
Some injuries like Cole’s dislocated finger and Luol Deng’s wrist injury suffered earlier this month may not have held them out of action for too long, but it has limited their game.
"Welcome to the NBA," said Spoelstra with a smile at Wednesday’s practice in response to their nonstop injuries to begin the season. "You got to find a way. Each day you have healthy bodies out there is an opportunity to get better. It doesn’t matter who’s in or out. We’ll adjust to whatever presents itself. Every team goes through something. You’ve got to adapt."
The Heat face a welcome break in the schedule as they won’t play again until Sunday when they visit the New York Knicks. The team will use their extended time to rest and recuperate, but already there are positive signs that the team is coming together.
Wade appeared active and healthy during a layup drill towards the end of Wednesday’s practice alongside Cole and Shabazz Napier, even going so far as to dunk over the outstretched arms of Spoelstra, who was defending him near the basket with a foam pool noodle to increase his wingspan.
"Obviously it’s better when I’m in the ballgame to be able to control the game a little bit more and get guys shots", Wade said. "But at the same time, there’s no guarantee that I’m going to be there or Chris is going to be there every time so we have to continue to work on our habits.
"On a day like today where guys played last night, they might not want to be here, but it’s a good day to come in and work those things and try to understand how we’re going to be successful."
So far, Bosh has been one of the few players that have been able to stay healthy throughout and his consistency has helped keep the Heat afloat through the ups and downs.
"We’ve been dealt a few blows early on in the season," he said. "We just haven’t had any consistency as far as health is concerned. We’ve just had tough luck with that but it goes on and we just have to continue to figure out a way to get the job done.
"We still have to rely heavily on our new guys and rookies to get up to speed quickly. We have to go out there and compete and just live with the mistakes we’re making — try not to do them twice. That’s where our communication comes in because we have to point out what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong."
Despite the tough losses the Heat have suffered, Bosh remains optimistic that all of these setbacks will someday benefit the team.
"Maybe right now this is what we need," he said. "Guys being forced to develop. It’s not easy getting to the point of being a strong unit.
"Unfortunately guys are going to have to be baptized by fire, which is happening right now. I think sometimes it’s the best situation to be put in. We’re coming in every game, ‘Who’s playing tonight?’ It affects the packages we’re going to run some nights, it affects the matchups. It requires guys to step up on both ends. Whether we’re doing good or bad, guys are learning."