Ten to Watch: Can Miami Stay Healthy Enough to Challenge Detroit?
By Brad Friedman
Last season, the Heat took Detroit to seven games of the East finals. But in the end, even the series finale on their home floor, Miami's inability to stay healthy was what may have cost them a Finals appearance.
Heat center Shaquille O'Neal never was at full strength because of a lingering thigh injury that left him less than dominant throughout the playoffs. Teammate Dwyane Wade missed all of a Game 6 loss because of a rib injury suffered in Game 5, and the Heat could only manage 66 points without their leading scorer. Though Wade returned for Game 7, he lacked much of his typical explosiveness and played through significant pain, according to his teammates' post-game comments. In a Game 7 that was decided by six points, a healthy Wade may have been the difference in the contest.
The Heat's injury woes are nothing to overlook.
Doug Benc/Getty Images/NBAE
That hasn't been lost on Miami, which rested their pair of superstars at the conclusion of the regular season this year in anticipation of staying healthy during the playoffs. In the Heat's final two contests of the season, Wade and O'Neal each rested. While Wade remained largely injury-free this season, there's reason to be concerned about the health of O'Neal, who missed 23 games this season.
Miami will need to make quick work of their opponents in the early rounds so as to not tire their stars for a gritty conference finals with a team such as Detroit.
Should the first or second round drag out, O'Neal's aging body may not be able to sustain itself over the long haul. The 7-1, 300-pound plus O'Neal takes night-in and night-out poundings from opponents.
To prevent a repeat of last year, the Heat re-signed center Alonzo Mourning as an insurance policy for O'Neal last offseason. Mourning proved to be an admirable backup in 20 starts in place of his teammate during the regular season, averaging 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. But given his own health issues -- Mourning suffered a torn right calf against the Pistons March 22 and hasn't played since -- the 36-year-old can't necessarily be depended upon for the playoffs.
Mourning or not, this team came close to turning away Detroit last year when luck wasn't on their side. A little bit of help from the basketball gods and it could be the Pistons making the adjustments.