Luol Deng tried to return to normalcy for a bit, removing the cheap shades he had been wearing most of the day, and revealing his blood-red right eye. He could only last so long, before the light in the locker room got the better of him.
“And it’s blurry,” Deng said, shaking his head.
That describes the forecast for the Miami Heat at the moment.
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Blurry in terms of which players will return to full health, and in which week. Blurry in terms of when the losing stops, after this eighth loss in 10 games, this one 101-81 to the Toronto Raptors, the fourth game in a row scoring less than 90. Blurry in terms of whether this squad can reinvigorate its spirit, while rehabilitating its bodies, in time to still challenge for a decent seed in the East playoffs.
As of now, the Heat is technically in the eighth spot, with the Knicks and Wizards not far behind, and with a Monday road matchup in Chicago looming.
“It’s been real tough,” Chris Bosh said following shootaround, as he surveyed the wreckage around him. “We were trying to really work on something and put some things together. Setbacks started happening, and we just aren’t able to compete at the level we want to.”
Those setbacks have included injuries to starters Deng, Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, injuries that sidelined all but Wade on Friday, and even his activation was a surprise. At shootaround, coach Erik Spoelstra, reading a laundry list he had pulled from his pocket, identified Wade (shoulders) as one of those who would be out, along with Deng (eye), Dragic (calf), Whiteside (oblique), Beno Udrih (neck), Josh McRoberts (knee) and Chris Andersen (knee).
But, then, 90 minutes prior to tipoff, Spoelstra switched Wade’s status to questionable, and then Wade got through an on-court workout without any significant trouble. So he played. And he played reasonably well, with 13 points in the first half. And if you questioned whether his right shoulder was sound, he answered that, as he fired the ball down the court, after DeMar DeRozan probed the lane, found Luis Scola in the left corner, and Scola sent the Raptors into the break with a three-pointer and a 60-44 lead.
Wade finished with 22 points, but that paled next to DeRozan, the rising East star who reminds Wade of his younger self; the Raptors’ two-guard, sure to be named to his second All-Star team next week, posted a stat line of 33 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Miami hung a few paces back for the entire second half, with Spoelstra using eight of his available nine options at least 16 minutes apiece. And some of them offered something of value, whether it was Bosh, booed as usual here, scoring 26; or Udonis Haslem grabbing nine rebounds, while setting professional screens for Wade; or Josh Richardson playing with energy, even if erratically; or Amar’e Stoudemire showing a little lift in his legs, at least for a little while.
But others? Gerald Green, playing with a sore knee, missed all seven of his shots, dropping him to 6 of 39 over his past five games. Tyler Johnson, playing heavy minutes again as the emergency starting point guard, couldn’t get the team organized consistently and gave the Toronto crowd great glee by clanking a reverse dunk on the break. Justise Winslow had nine points and eight rebounds but got repeatedly left in DeRozan’s dust.
So when does this stop?
Maybe when Dragic and Whiteside and Deng are all starting again. That probably won’t happen in Chicago, even as Udrih and McRoberts are nearing returns to fortify the bench. Udrih had hoped to play Friday, until running made his neck stiffen. McRoberts, who last played Dec. 7, spoke optimistically Friday, even if he couldn’t provide a timetable.
As for the starters, Deng might be watching the longest, and mostly through his left eye. Poked late in Wednesday’s loss by Wizards rookie Kelly Oubre, Deng said he hadn’t experienced pain like that for a while, pain exacerbated when the team — because of a cautious bus driver in inclement Washington, D.C., conditions and a broken luggage cart at the airport — didn’t get to its Toronto hotel until 6 a.m. Friday.
“It hurt so much,” Deng said.
Even after a day of rest, the eye wasn’t feeling much better; he couldn’t move it up or down without discomfort. He admitted that he was “scared” about what might be found, once he gets a second opinion in Chicago.
The Heat’s season needs a second wind, but the forecast is currently blurry. And there’s plenty of cause for worry.