The 2014-2015 Miami Heat are extremely limited when facing injury.
That much has been demonstrated thus far in this season, though it be a relatively small sample size to base judgement. Over the course of the "Big Three" era, the Heat were often met with criticism regarding their lack of depth. The arguments were of course valid for the most part, however come postseason Miami's lack of depth generally seemed unexposed, save for last summer where they were completely dismantled by the San Antonio Spurs.
While I am ever the eternal optimist when it comes to the Heat (especially Dwyane Wade), I can't help but notice that injuries have the potential to completely derail their postseason aspirations.
In order for everybody to visualize that drastic changes injuries are forcing us to make, I created this graphic. Due keep in mind we are barely a month into the NBA season (that is not a good thing).
Chris Andersen has had an extremely rough start to the season. Birdman has been injured consistently, even as recently as Monday against Brooklyn where he seemed to suffer an injury to his elbow. While shooting around at halftime, I noticed (while I was sitting fairly close to the court) that he kept on grabbing his elbow and cringing he seemed to be in an extreme amount of pain when shooting free throws.
Thus far, Birdman has only played in seven games. In those seven he's averaged just 17 minutes of playing time, and 3.3 rebounds. Birdman has actually gone scoreless in three games -- against the Atlanta Hawks on November 14th, versus Philadelphia 76ers on November 1st and Thursday's game against the L.A. Clippers. This is a cardinal sin for a big man, due to their proximity to the hoop. Birdman is one of Miami's greatest assets because of the spark he brings off the bench and his ability to grab rebounds and make easy baskets. If Birdman is unable to perform on a consistent basis, then it might be time to for the Heat give Justin Hamilton a realistic look.
I was extremely impressed by Josh McRoberts' play in the first round of last year's playoffs, and was genuinely content when Miami signed him during the offseason. Nevertheless, like much of the Miami faithful I had no idea what a mess his toe injury would cause. McRoberts has played in only seven games with Spoelstra limiting his minutes each time. In the time played he's been less than noteworthy besides one ocurrence where he ripped his jersey in half in frustration.
Despite playing Thursday against the Clippers, he is now dealing with an infected blister. Coming into the season I thought for sure McRoberts would be a starter for this Heat team. Nevertheless with Shawne Williams stepping up and playing very well while McRoberts continues to deal with recurring injury, it's possible that McRoberts continues playing a minimal role even when he's good to go.
Danny Granger can still be a threat in the NBA.
The tenacity, and resilience a player develops by playing major role on a contender, and by becoming an NBA All-Star doesn't vanish overnight. The fire that made Danny Granger an incredible basketball player is still present within him, but is stuck behind a barrier built by injury.
That being said, what terrifies me about Granger is his inability to stay healthy. Last year, plagued by the same hamstring injury, Granger only appeared in 41 regular season games. Seeing Granger start for Miami on Monday gave me hope that he would would finally start to become a regular part of Miami's offense. However, after playing 20 minutes in Brooklyn on Monday he played just 6 minutes against the Clippers leading me to believe that there is more occurring than Granger just trying to rediscover his rhythm. When healthy, Granger has the ability to be one of the NBA's best. Regardless, if Granger is unable to return anywhere close to where he was just two seasons ago he'll be just another well dressed body at the end of Miami's bench.
Luol Deng is a phenomenal talent, but with so many miles on his body the 29-year-old forward seems to have the durability of a basketball player in his mid-thirties. Thankfully for the Miami Heat the injuries he's suffered thus far in the season are relatively minor, and he was able to return the action against the Clippers. Hopefully Deng will be able to remain healthy for the remainder of the season, but there is an enormous chance he won't be. There is a huge difference between being hurt and injured, for the sake of the Miami Heat I pray he's only hurt.
Dwyane Wade started the season strong, playing three back to back sets and doing so with a tenacity not seen since 2009. Last week at this time, Wade had missed no games and many considered Miami to be a realistic contender. Wade's hamstring injury is extremely alarming, and I don't think anybody believed that he would miss this much time. Wade is the catalyst for Miami's success and without him, we will continue to lose. I've been the first in line to defend Wade's durability his whole career, however I've come to the realization that saving a body for the playoffs makes no sense if there's a possibility the team doesn't get there.
The Ugly Truth:
The Miami Heat are a very good team and a possible championship contender, but only when they have the entire lineup at our disposal. Without their star players and role players, the starting lineup is below average, especially in an improved Eastern Conference. It's time to face the fact that Miami is without the luxury of LeBron James when Wade finds himself sidelined and in turn the Heat don't have enough to make up for his loss. As someone who's dealt with injury, I recognize the mental toll it has on an athlete while they struggle to return to their sport. Unfortunately, even when they do come back to the lineup it's often without their prior chemistry and cohesion.
Miami's situation parallels that of a struggling boxer. In a fight the fighter spends the entire contest trying to set up the perfect combination to end their opponent . At this time Miami has a solid one two punch combination, but are without the knockout blow. If they're unable to rectify this in a timely manner, it will no doubt spell doom for this team.