Ready or not: Injury-ravaged Miami Heat face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade in tough back-to-back set

Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) talk with Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) talk with Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

CLEVELAND — It wasn’t long ago that the Heat were traveling to games with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on their team plane.

Now the Heat (7-15) will travel to play a back-to-back set against James and Wade with just nine players on their team plane. The injury-ravaged Heat face a tough road back-to-back against the Cavaliers on Friday and the Bulls on Saturday to close out their three-game trip.

The Heat left five players in Miami to continue to recover from injuries in the middle of a challenging stretch that includes four games in five nights. Luke Babbitt (hip flexor), James Johnson (rotator cuff strain), Josh Richardson (sprained ankle), Justise Winslow (sprained wrist) and Dion Waiters (torn groin muscle) did not travel with the team for the three-game trip.

With those five players in Miami and Chris Bosh not with the team, the Heat have just nine players available.

“I like it,” a smiling Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday of traveling with nine players. “I would rather have a full complement, but I like it when our travel party shrinks a little bit. We went into our film session and meeting today and there was only nine chairs. That looked a little strange, but we’re moving pretty efficiently.”

[Heat’s injuries putting Rodney McGruder to the test in rookie season]

[Q&A with announcer Mike Breen on state of Miami Heat, Big Three Era]

[Five takeaways from the Heat’s 103-95 loss to the Hawks]

It’s gotten to the point that Spoelstra said he uses former NBA players and current Heat assistant coaches Juwan Howard and Chris Quinn as the 10th man in practices and shootarounds.

“They still are in great shape,” Spoelstra said of Howard and Quinn. “Literally they probably could give us seven or eight minutes. I’ll have to talk to Pat [Riley] about that and see if we can suit them up or get some kind of exception for those two.”

All kidding aside, the Heat’s injuries have taken a toll on the team. Twelve Heat players (including Bosh) have already combined to miss 89 games due to injuries over the first 22 games of the season.

Aside from Bosh, Wayne Ellington has missed the most games due to injury. He missed the first 16 games of the season with a right thigh contusion.

Along with Ellington, Winslow has missed 13 consecutive games with a wrist injury and Richardson has missed nine games due to multiple injuries.

Miami’s young core of Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Richardson and Winslow has played just 29 minutes together this season due to injuries. The group has been effective in those limited minutes, outscoring opponents by 21 points when they’ve been able to get on the court together.

“I think this was a tough time to lose a lot of bodies, going three of four [on the road],” Tyler said. “But I would go to war with the guys we’ve got here for sure. We’re not using it as an excuse. The other team isn’t going to feel bad for us. Yeah it’s tough for us, but at the same time we still have enough to win games.”

It hasn’t been enough in the first two games of this brutal stretch. The Heat have lost the first two games of this four-games-in-five-nights stretch with just nine players available, and they’ve lost three straight overall.

“Everybody is going to be beat up. The whole team is beat up,” Tyler said. “The more minutes we play the more likely it is we get more beat up. Like I said, nobody else feels bad for us. We have enough people in this room to get wins.”

But with games against James and Wade up next, it’s not going to be easy. Spoelstra knows that better than most after winning multiple NBA titles with the duo in Miami.

“It’s always easy for me to think about how special that time was,” Spoelstra said when asked if the back-to-back set against Cleveland and Chicago will bring back memories. “Look, I think it’s 20-plus years I’ve been with the Heat. Every single one of those years, we approached the season to contend for a title. But you’re also experienced to know that doesn’t always happen. When you do have a team that’s special like that, you know pretty quickly that it’s different. So when we get to Cleveland, I’ll think about those thoughts.”

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]

Reader Comments 0

0 comments