Heat continue to feel strain of injury bug as Chris Bosh sits out
MIAMI -- With all of the Miami Heat's injury woes, it was almost inevitable that star forward Chris Bosh would soon join the ranks of his teammates to don street clothes.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra made the surprise announcement before the Heat's 93-75 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bulls that Bosh would miss his first game of the season with a mild calf sprain. There was no word from Spoelstra or Bosh as to when the injury was suffered, but Bosh said after the game that he suspected it may be a wear-and-tear type injury.
"We were not overly shocked," Dwyane Wade said after the game. "We would love to play with all our guys and give ourselves a chance, but we can't. It's not in the cards for us to do that right now. Moreso than anything when missing a guy like Chris, he's unreplaceable. It doesn't matter who's in the lineup when you have a guy like that out."
Miami has seen constant change in their starting lineup in large part because of persistent health issues with Wade and Josh McRoberts. In total, nine Heat players have missed a collective 44 games this season. Chris Andersen has missed 15 of the Heat's 24 games but returned in time for Sunday's game, a good thing because the Heat only had 10 available players with Shabazz Napier, Hassan Whiteside and Andre Dawkins all assigned to play in the Heat's D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
After the loss, Spoelstra said it wasn't worth it to focus on the team's rash of injuries.
"That's irrelevant at this point," he said. "We're just trying to get to our identity, get to a consistency with that in an inconsistent landscape. Who cares? That's just the hand we've been dealt right now, so what areas can we improve?"
Right now, there's plenty for the Heat to work on, starting with having a consistent defensive mindset to close out on shooters while still protecting the paint. Even with Joakim Noah out, the Bulls big men got what they wanted inside early in the game. Chicago then raced out to a big lead in the third quarter when Mike Dunleavy scored 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting alongside Jimmy Butler, who was perfect from the field for eight points.
Before the game got away from them in the second half, the Heat did their best to stay competitive and were able to battle the Bulls evenly on both ends of the floor in the early going.
"There are some positive things with this and with other guys having to step up," Spoelstra said. "That's something you can take from a lot of the rotation -- in terms of guys being in and out -- but that's also an opportunity to build some real collective toughness, to overcome things you can't control. That will be our next opportunity to get better."
Since LeBron James left the Heat in July, the team has stressed this season is not a rebuilding year but instead an opportunity to retool and build on what was accomplished in the Big 3 era. But the never-ending injury setbacks have also created an unintended side effect of the reserves and young core playing more minutes and taking advantage of the extra opportunities.
A similar situation played out in Chicago over the course of the past three seasons with Derrick Rose battling ongoing knee issues in addition to other players such as Luol Deng sidelined with various injuries. Young players such as Jimmy Butler developed with veterans missing so many games, and now the Bulls are reaping the benefits.
"One of the byproducts of Derrick being out was the growth of Taj (Gibson) and Joakim (Noah)," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game.
With the trio of Napier, Dawkins and Whiteside getting some extra playing time with the Skyforce, the hope is the Heat can fast-track their development as well.
"We haven't had a lot of practice time, so it was an opportunity for them to get out there and play and compete and do it in our system," Spoelstra said. "It was a fairly logical, easy decision coming back with a couple days."
However for the time being, the reality is the Heat must pull together with whoever is healthy to try to establish some fundamentals.
"Right now, in the beginning of the year, and end of the year -- we're going to need everybody," Wade said. "We're not strong enough to leave out someone. Our team is built to play together. We haven't had the opportunity to really play together so it's very unfortunate. But like I said, it's our turn to go through it and other teams have been through it, so no one is going to feel sorry for us. Whoever is in that uniform, you got to try to find a way to win some games and stay competitive until we can get everybody there and see what we've really got."