Heat’s success lacks depth

It comes as no surprise that as well as the Miami Heat have played in the first half of the season, their championship hopes will continue to rest on the health of their three stars. This can be said for most teams – if the Los Angeles Lakers lose Kobe Bryant(notes), they’re going to have a considerably tougher time defending their title – but it carries even more weight with the Heat, who lack the overall depth of some of the league’s other contenders. Even a short-term injury to LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) or Chris Bosh(notes) can become debilitating for Miami.

“The team was built around us three,” Wade said. “There’s no question about it. It’s not only important that all three of us be healthy, but plays well.”

The Heat learned that lesson after the Denver Nuggets hammered them Thursday night with James sidelined by a sprained left ankle. Miami was also playing for the second straight night, which likely contributed to the lopsidedness of the loss, but there was no denying James’ value to the team.

“You can’t fill LeBron’s shoes,” said James Jones(notes), who started in James’ place. “He’s been an MVP multiple times … so collectively we have to try to make up for his loss.”

The Heat also lost a close game to the Memphis Grizzlies early in the season when Wade was sidelined by a sore left wrist. So far, Miami has been fortunate that none of its three stars have suffered a significant injury.

“That’s a part of basketball. You’re going to have guys banged up and in and out somewhat,” Wade said. “You don’t want to be concerned. Chris has done a great job all year of keeping his body right; he’s out there every night. You see what happened with LeBron. It was a freak accident, but he’s not out for too long, and that’s a good thing. The only thing you can do is just play and hope for the best.

“LeBron hasn’t missed too many games in his career to injuries. He’s come right back. Chris had some things in Toronto at the end of last [season], but there is not as much toll on his body. Vice versa, there is not that much toll on my body. Us playing together not only lengthens our playing career but how many games we can play in a season.”

James, Wade and Bosh combine to average nearly 70 points with the rest of the team averaging about 30. If Wade or James is out for an extended period of time, the Heat will likely have to lean on Jones and Mike Miller(notes), who is still trying to regain his rhythm after injuring his right thumb. James and Wade also are two of the NBA’s top defenders.

Still, the biggest concern for the Heat could center on Bosh. With Udonis Haslem(notes) already lost to a foot injury, possbily for the season, Miami has little depth at power forward.

“I know I bring a lot to the table and I know I give a lot to this team,” Bosh said. “That makes me want to stay healthy, first and foremost.”

New role for Lawson?

If Chauncey Billups(notes) is traded with Carmelo Anthony(notes) to the New Jersey Nets, backup point guard Ty Lawson(notes) could be in line for an increase in playing time with the Denver Nuggets – which is why Lawson is calling the prospective trade “bittersweet.”

Lawson might even get a chance to become the team’s starting point guard.

“I’ve been playing in big-time games since I was a little kid to Oak Hill Academy to North Carolina to now,” Lawson said. “I think I’m ready for the opportunity. I’d never step down from it.”

Lawson has averaged 17 points and six assists and shot 47.1 percent from 3-point range in five games as a starter this season. Nuggets coach George Karl said that to be successful, Lawson needs to become more of a leader.

“Right now, I know my role [as a reserve], so I play it,” Lawson said. “I still got to be more vocal. I think everything on the court will take care of itself.”

Billups has spoken to Lawson about the potential trade and how his role could change.

“His development is speeding up,” Billups said. “It’s not easy to start at point guard. It’s not just about getting numbers. Most nights there is a lot going on for a point guard. [Lawson] has the head for it and obviously he has the talent level.”

The Nuggets also are expected to acquire Nets point guard Devin Harris(notes) in the deal. They could move Harris to another team or keep him, which would give Lawson competition at the position. Nuggets players have debated amongst themselves whether Lawson or Harris would be a better starter. One Nuggets source said it’s possible Harris and Lawson could both be in a three-guard starting lineup because the roster would have no true small forward.

Chilly homecoming for Wade?

Dwyane Wade could get an interesting reception when he returns to Chicago on Saturday. The former Oak Lawn Richards High School star flirted with the Bulls as a free agent last summer, meeting with the franchise twice before re-signing with the Heat. LeBron James and Chris Bosh also spurned the Bulls to join Wade in Miami.

Carlos Boozer(notes) became the Bulls’ big free-agent signing.

“I don’t know what to expect, but it really doesn’t matter to me,” Wade said. “My family will be rooting for me.”

Walker disappoints

The D-League Showcase took place this week in South Padre, Texas, giving Antoine Walker(notes) of the Idaho Stampede a chance to impress NBA scouts.

Or not.

One NBA scout on hand said Walker was out of shape and he doesn’t expect him to get another crack at the NBA. With scouts and NBA front-office executives watching, Walker had seven points on 2-of-13 shooting (1-of-6 3-pointers), 10 turnovers and four fouls in 35 minutes against Erie on Tuesday.

The scout said the players who will get immediate looks from the NBA will be Iowa center Courtney Sims(notes) and guard Othyus Jeffers(notes), Rio Grande Valley forward Jeff Adrien(notes) and guard Mustafa Shakur(notes), Utah guard Orien Greene, Bakersfield guard Trey Johnson(notes) and Tulsa forward Ronald Dupree(notes). All of them have previously appeared on NBA rosters.

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