It’s possible that the Heat could only have seven players available on Tuesday night for the team’s most important game of the season.
The number of uninjured players is fewer still.
With key contributors either out with injuries or hurting after a difficult and demoralizing road trip, the Heat (34-43) returned to Miami on Monday to prepare for what feels like a must-win scenario against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat is now 10th in the Eastern Conference standings following three consecutive losses on the road.
“We just have to focus on Tuesday, get healthy, get right and realize that we are still fighting and kicking and have an opportunity,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Sunday’s 112-89 loss in Indianapolis. “We will use the 48 hours to get to that mind-set and get ready to really compete on our home court for the biggest game of the year.”
Getting healthy might be difficult. The Heat has more injured players than healthy options at this point. The latest injury news: both Luol Deng and Michael Beasley injured their left knees against the Pacers and were scheduled for MRIs on Monday. Deng played Sunday despite swelling in his knee. Beasley limped off in the fourth quarter after a scary hyperextension.
One night before those injuries, Chris Andersen and Hassan Whiteside experienced significant setbacks in Detroit. The 10 stitches between Whiteside’s middle and ring fingers of his right hand opened up on the final play of the game, and the team held the starting center out as a precaution against the Pacers. Andersen couldn’t put pressure on his foot after an injury against the Pistons. Without those two players available, the Heat was outrebounded 55-37 by Indiana.
“It affected us a lot,” Dwyane Wade said. “But that’s the nature of the beast. What can I say? We still have guys that can go out there and compete.”
Udonis Haslem, who started at center against the Pacers, had 10 rebounds against Indiana, including six in the first quarter. The Heat’s longtime co-captain, Haslem manned the paint against the Pacers’ big frontline along with Heat small forwards Deng, Beasley and Henry Walker. If Whiteside, Andersen, Deng and Beasley can’t play against the Hornets, the Heat could be playing for a spot in the playoffs with Walker, Haslem and James Ennis as the team’s only forwards.
“It [stinks], but what are you going to do?” Haslem said. “We got five games left, and the teams that we’re going up against won’t feel sorry for us. We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to go out and compete and let the chips fall where they may.
“The most important thing is we have to compete. It ain’t going to be about X’s and O’s. It ain’t going to be about misses and makes. We just got to compete.”
Amid so many injuries, one constant for the Heat through much of the season was an unflinching ability to remain competitively engaged. Some of that fighting spirit seemed to fade away in the second half against the Pacers, understandable considering the game’s gross mismatch in the paint and the Heat’s crushing defeat in Detroit the previous night.
“It’s a combination of whatever,” Wade said after losing to Indiana. “We had an opportunity last game, and we found a way to lose it. [Sunday night] we just didn’t have it.”
Despite the loss and obvious dejection, the Heat is still alive in this Eastern Conference playoff race. Although 10th in the standings, Miami is only one game out of eighth with games against the Hornets, Bulls, Raptors, Magic and 76ers remaining in the season. A victory over the Hornets could catapult the Heat right back into the mix.
“Anything is possible,” Wade said. “It’s that old saying: You’re never as good as you think, and you’re never as bad as they say you are. We got a chance to go home and play four in a row.”
Said Haslem: “We got to take care of our business and hopefully a couple things will go our way, which hasn’t happened in forever.”
Next for Heat
TUESDAY: CHA @ MIA
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM; WRTO 98.3 FM (Sp.).
Series: Heat leads 54-37.
Noteworthy: Zoran and Goran Dragic, Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Tyler Johnson, James Ennis and Henry Walker are probable. Hassan Whiteside (right-hand laceration), Chris Andersen (sprained left foot), Luol Deng (bruised left knee) and Michael Beasley (left-knee hyperextension) are questionable. Josh McRoberts (right knee meniscus), Chris Bosh (blood clot) and Shabazz Napier (sports hernia) are out for the season. For the Hornets, Bismack Biyombo (broken nose) is probable. Cody Zeller (right shoulder soreness) is doubtful. Al Jefferson (right knee soreness) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (left ankle sprain) are out.