The memory is seared into his mind.
Udonis Haslem had given up millions to remain with the Heat. The team had built a juggernaut early that summer and Dwyane Wade had convinced LeBron James and Chris Bosh to sign for less money all so the Heat could keep Haslem on the roster. Then it happened.
With 1 minute 25 seconds left in the third quarter of the Heat’s away game against Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 20, 2010, Haslem collided with Zach Randolph in the paint and landed awkwardly on his left foot while fighting for rebound. Haslem knew something was wrong immediately. He held his foot with one hand and signaled to the training staff with the other.
Minutes later, after teammates had huddled around Haslem on the court, he was carried into the locker room and taken directly to the X-ray room inside FedEx Forum. Haslem was later diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot and underwent surgery. He missed the rest of the regular season and later returned to action in a limited but important role in the Eastern Conference finals against the Bulls.
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On Sunday, Haslem will return for the first time to the court where his career almost ended. The Heat (5-1) plays the Grizzlies (4-1) at 6 p.m. Hundreds of thoughts swirled through Haslem’s mind in that room inside FedEx Forum that night, but mostly he thought about his family.
“You can’t not think about it,” Haslem said of his return to Memphis. “I was very fortunate. When you sustain an injury like that, the first thing you think is if you’re ever going to get back to playing at the level you were at. And even if you do get back are you going to be as effective or as good of a player as you were.
“So, it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication. The training staff has done a great job in getting me back and getting me back right.”
Haslem had 10 rebounds in Friday’s victory against the Hawks. It was his most significant contribution off the bench this season. He is averaging 4.8 rebounds per game and is third on the team with 29. LeBron James has 60 rebounds in six games and Chris Bosh has 41.
“It felt good,” Haslem said of his 24 minutes against the Hawks. “They’ve got a big lineup, so I kind of anticipated that I would probably get a few more minutes. I just tried to be ready because I look forward to those challenges and those opportunities.”
Sunday will likely present a similar opportunity. The Grizzlies feature one of the biggest frontcourts in the league and their physical style will test the Heat’s lineup, which is built around speed and gives up inches in the paint. Randolph leads the league with 15.0 rebounds per game.
“Typically, [Haslem] finds a way to have a role in these type slugfests, ‘3 yards and a cloud of dust’ skirmishes inside the paint,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “… [Haslem] I’m sure will be a factor in this game.”
Haslem is 25 rebounds away from tying Alonzo Mourning for the Heat’s franchise record. On Saturday, he avoided any talk of the record out of superstition.
“I don’t even want to know how close I am,” Haslem said. “I don’t want to jinx it.”
Heat guard Dwyane Wade is slowly recovering from the illness that held him out of Friday’s 95-89 victory against the Hawks. Wade listed to the game on the radio from the team’s hotel in Atlanta.
Wade expects to play Sunday. He practiced with the team Saturday at FedEx Forum and even won a three-point shooting game against his teammates after the workout session.
“I’m better today,” Wade, who still sounded congested, said Saturday. “I got a lot of medicine in me. I was just trying to get out here and sweat a little bit, and just get out of the room a little bit. Yesterday I got weak in the afternoon time and the training staff thought it was good that didn’t not only spread my germs around but that I take it easy.”
James’ knee was sore Saturday, one day after colliding with Josh Smith near the end of the second quarter in Atlanta.
He is expected to play Sunday.