Chris Bosh held both hands up to the heavens like someone asking for a miracle, or trying to channel some divine force.
“If we can just have all our guys out there,” Bosh said, “and if we can have a unit and a consistency in the lineup, that’s all I want.”
Those were Bosh’s last public words before the All-Star break, and they were fringed with the frustrated inflection of someone out of answersbut still required to speak. All Bosh wants is a healthy team after the break, but for the Heat this season that might be asking too much.
The Heat has used 20 different lineups – or one fewer than all of last season – and players have missed more than 100 games combined due to injury and illness. The first half of the season started with promise, with Bosh playing like an All-NBA forward, but one injury after another (exacerbated by the absence of LeBron James) has left the Heat eight games below .500 with 30 to go.
But Bosh didn’t want to really talk about any of that Wednesday night in Cleveland after James and the Cavaliers defeated his former team 113-93. The Heat’s All-Star power forward just wanted to get on a plane as fast as possible and leave Cleveland and the first half of the season behind.
Is it easier to find motivation this year for the final stretch of the regular season?
“Man, I’m not even thinking about that right now,” Bosh said. “I’m thinking about that break.”
Bosh and Dwyane Wade flew to New York on Thursday for the All-Star Game festivities. Bosh will compete in the Skills Challenge on Saturday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center –his team is a two-time defending winner of the competition – and he will appear in his ninth All-Star Game on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Bosh is a 10-time All-Star, but missed one game due to injury.
Wade is the injured All-Star this season, but he’s in New York for endorsement obligations and charity events. The Heat – 22-30 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings – doesn’t play again until next Friday (Feb. 20), a road game against the New York Knicks.
“Given everything, after all that, we’re in the eighth spot, and we have an opportunity to make the playoffs, so there is no reason to be down,” Bosh said. “We need to keep our spirits, and we’re in a position to do better. And we can see it. We just need to get it, and get to that point to really push each other and pull each other to where we need to be.”
The first 52 games of the Heat’s season were marked by three major events. First, Josh McRoberts went down with a season-ending knee injury, and that forced coach Erik Spoelstra to scrap the team’s original offensive and defensive plans. The Heat then successfully mined the D-League for a diamond in the rough when it signed center Hassan Whiteside, and Spoelstra repurposed the squad to fit around the new big man. Such a drastic adjustment during the middle of a season would have been difficult for any team, but especially one relying on so many young players.
“I mean, it’s tough,” forward Luol Deng said. “It’s tougher for the new guys more than anything because we’re trying to learn a new system and we got guys in and out of the lineup, and that changes a lot of what coach’s plan is. And then we got Whiteside coming in and it’s almost like signing a new player, so you got to adjust to that, and guys have been hurt.”
The new-look Heat showed promise for a few games, but Wade couldn’t stay healthy. Plagued by a series of injuries during the first half of the season, he badly strained his right hamstring on Jan. 27 and hasn’t played since.
Wade says he’ll be ready for a playoff push on Feb. 20, and the Heat’s other injured players – forwards Shawne Williams (hip) and James Ennis (illness) – should be healthy by then as well. With everyone available, Bosh thinks the Heat has a chance to quickly turn the season around. The Heat also could make a trade before Feb. 19 to improve the team, or perhaps use its Disabled Player Exception to replace McRoberts.
“It’s just staying healthy, that’s the key,” Bosh said. “I don’t even want much. All I’m asking is to be healthy and have all our guys out there and I can live with the rest.”
Bosh admitted earlier in the month that the team’s injuries have been a source of discouragement, but, injuries or not, the Heat’s players and Spoelstra know they underachieved in their first test without James.
“If we’re a .500 team or above, I’d say we’ve done great, but I can’t really,” Deng said. “We tried to do the best we could be do, but I don’t think anyone is happy with our record. The thing is, we’re in the East, and if we were in the West we’d be in a terrible position, but we’re still in the playoff hunt, and we believe we will be there.”