With Wade’s return in serious doubt, the Heat will continue making adjustments without the player who led them to a title as they face James and the Cavaliers for the third time this month.
If Miami’s first game since Wade dislocated his left shoulder was an indication of how the team will fare without him, the Heat will have plenty of trouble making the playoffs, let alone defending their championship. In a rematch of last year’s finals, the Heat trailed by 23 at halftime and by as many as 32 in the fourth quarter of a 112-100 loss at Dallas on Thursday.
“We’ve got to forget about it,” Miami coach Pat Riley said of playing without Wade. “You get shocked a lot of times. We’re big boys. We’re professionals. They’ve been waiting for this game and we didn’t respond well to the adversity.”
Wade said earlier Thursday he was considering season-ending surgery for the shoulder he hurt in a collision during Wednesday’s 112-102 loss to Houston. The Heat (26-28) entered that game having won seven of eight, with the only loss in that span being a 103-79 defeat at Cleveland on Feb. 9.
James scored 29 points in that matchup and Wade had 27, but he was unable to take over the way he did eight days earlier. While James was held to 17 points, Wade scored a team-record 24 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 41 in Miami’s 92-89 home win over Cleveland.
That game along with a succession of easy wins, Riley’s return after a seven-week absence for physical problems and a healthy Shaquille O’Neal made it seem Miami was hitting its stride. The entire landscape has changed, however, due to the severity of Wade’s injury.
The Heat own the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but are only one game up on New Jersey and two ahead of New York. Since 1970, the only time a defending champion has failed to make the playoffs was Chicago in 1999, the year after Michael Jordan’s second retirement.
“You don’t know how this whole thing is going to play out,” Riley said. “We’ll have to play with a sense of urgency.”
O’Neal plans to do just that.
He’s averaged 18.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in the past two games, well above his averages during a season in which he’s played only 15 games due to knee problems.
“I’m going to start playing really aggressive,” said O’Neal, who turns 35 next month. “Hopefully I’ll get more looks and get more touches and be able to keep everyone involved.”
James is expected to have a little more help on offense Sunday after Cleveland (32-23) played short-handed in an 84-78 home loss to Chicago on Thursday.
“We had three of our top eight guys inactive,” said James, averaging 32.0 points in the last three games. “It’s going to be tough for us to win with those guys out. We didn’t have that spunk we usually have with those guys coming off the bench.”
Ilgauskas, averaging 11.7 points and 8.2 rebounds, practiced on Saturday and is expected to play after missing the last four games to tend to family health problems.
Pavlovic, who has scored in double figures in eight of his last 10 games, will sit out again with flulike symptoms and Jones is likely to miss his third straight game because of strep throat.