Some losses sting more than others, but the three to the Milwaukee Bucks this season might signify the most painful defeats for the Miami Heat.
It was less than two years ago that the Heat steamrolled over the Bucks in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.
That quick series was arguably the Heat’s easiest during its four years with LeBron James, which makes this season’s 0-3 record to Milwaukee all the more disheartening.
The Heat (20-25) now trails the Bucks by three games in the Eastern Conference standings after Tuesday’s 109-102 loss at AmericanAirlines Arena, and it’s starting to feel like the Heat might never catch Milwaukee.
The latest setback for a team that can’t catch a break: Dwyane Wade could be out an extended period of time after straining his right hamstring in the third quarter against the Bucks.
Considering where the Heat was psychologically before the injury, it couldn’t have been worse timing.
On Tuesday morning, Wade was upbeat, wore a Marquette University warm-up after shootaround (a nod to his days in Milwaukee) and talked about how “refreshing” it was to have center Hassan Whiteside emerge during the middle of the season.
Spirits were high and the team had new hope for the season after Whiteside’s big game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. Wade wanted a victory against Milwaukee badly.
On Tuesday night, after Wade strained his right hamstring, he was so frustrated that he left the arena without speaking to reporters.
“It's frustrating for all of us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Initial signs do not favor a speedy recovery for Wade, who already has missed time on two separate occasions this season for leg injuries. After reevaluating Wade’s hamstring on Wednesday, the team began making plans to sign D-League guard Tyler Johnson to his second 10-day contract.
Johnson could be with the team as early as Thursday, but he’s not expected to play an active role over the next 10 days. The rookie shooting guard could see more minutes during his second turn with the team, but he didn’t factor into the Heat’s rotation the first time around.
Wade missed seven games in November with a strained left hamstring, and if this latest strain is similar in severity that could sideline him for the Heat’s road game against the Cavaliers (Feb.11) and also, potentially, the All-Star game (Feb.15).
Wade wasn’t voted in this season’s game, but he could be named a reserve. The deadline for league coaches to vote for this year’s All-Star reserves ended only a few hours before Wade’s injury on Tuesday. Reserves will be announced at 7 p.m. Thursday on TNT.
Returning to action on Feb.20 against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden would give Wade more than three weeks to recover for a post-All-Star playoff push.
In reality, there are still plenty of games remaining in this regular season for the Heat to finally gel as a team and enjoy some stability before the postseason. Positive outlooks were nonexistent Tuesday night, though.
Bosh said Wade’s injury, coupled with the injuries to Luol Deng and Chris Andersen, had taken a mental toll on the team. Asked whether the team was “snake bitten,” meaning unlucky, Bosh quipped, “Bit by something.”
“I don’t know if it’s a snake, but we’re getting bit and it hurts, and the most disappointing thing is we’re not even having the chance to be at full strength to even see what we can do,” Bosh said. “Not 100 percent, but at least have most of our guys available. And it seems like every time that it looks like we’re going to turn the corner there is a drawback.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, some of the Heat’s lowest moments this season have come with losses to the Bucks. The first loss, on Nov.16, gave the Heat a .500 winning percentage 10 games into the season.
Before then, the Heat hadn’t been a .500 basketball team that late into the season since 2009. The second loss to the Bucks, this one on Dec.5, dropped the Heat below .500 for the first time since Nov.1, 2013.
“It’s just so difficult and disappointing not to be at full strength or at least 75 percent,” Bosh said. “And we have no room for injury. We have so many new guys and we’re trying to gel together and it takes a whole season to do that, but we don’t even have a steady lineup to work with, so nobody is getting in rhythm, nobody is getting used to anything, and we’re dealing with the consequences.”