Impact of Dwyane Wade Injury for Bettors
by Trevor Whenham - 02/26/2007
How much must it suck to be Pat Riley right now? The Miami Heat coach was in so much physical pain that he had to take time off in the middle of the season to get some surgery. He finally gets reasonably healthy and his best player, Dwyane Wade, goes down with a very serious shoulder injury in the very first game he was back on the bench. There is hardly anything worse that could have happened to Riley or his team. The defending champions were barely managing to stay in the playoff race before this happened, so things look pretty dire in Miami. It goes without saying that this injury will have a major impact on the team's results, and their attractiveness as a bet. In fact, it's hard to imagine a team that is focused more around a single player, and would suffer more from that player's loss, than the Heat.
The Heat have been underachieving this season, with a record of just 26-28 despite playing in the much weaker Eastern Conference. They are in eighth place in the conference, trying to hold off New Jersey and the Knicks for the last playoff spot (Miami plays in New York tonight). Both those teams have real problems of their own, so the Heat may be able to hang on to the playoff spot, but it isn't going to be pretty. Despite their poor performance on the score sheet, though, the team has been reasonably kind to bettors. At 29-23-2 against the spread, they have the fourth best record in that regard in the league. Without Wade, who is out for at least six weeks and quite likely much longer, that will almost certainly change. The question is how it will change and how bettors should react to those changes. There are four key factors that will determine the fate of this team, and those that bet on it, down the road:
1) Shaq - O'Neal makes more money than any player in the league, and suddenly he has as much responsibility as any player, too. Up to this point, Shaq has not looked anything like the player he was - perhaps the greatest big man ever. He came back from injury on Jan. 21, and since then he is averaging just over 13 points and five rebounds per game. That's far below even where he was last year (20 and 9.2), and that was a substandard year for the big guy.
He's 35 years old and his big body isn't responding like it used to. As importantly, when you see the guy on the court or out and about he doesn't have that killer instinct or commitment to the game that he had in his prime. He better find it quickly. There are signs of hope - his numbers have jumped since the All-Star break. He'll have to play significantly more than the 20 minutes he has been playing now that Wade is gone, and he'll have to take more than the eight or nine shots he has been putting up. If Shaq can step up then he will free up some of the less skilled or more limited players on the roster to do what they do best and the team may just be okay. That's a big if, though.
2) Point guard - Someone is going to have to control the game and distribute the ball creatively to make up for the absence of Wade. That could be a problem for the Heat. Jason Williams is fragile and Gary Payton is old. Williams has missed 20 games with various ailments, and he's not really that productive when he's healthy and at his best anyway. Payton has less than six points per game, and has really been little more than a bit player all year. With so many point guards available at the trade deadline it may have made sense for them to pick someone up, but they didn't and they will have to live with that. Both players are going to have to step up, and Williams absolutely has to stay healthy. It may suit the freewheeling Williams to not have Wade on the court because he will have to make things happen without the standard and easy option of dishing to the superstar. How those two players respond to the pressure will go a long way to determine the future of this team and those that bet on it.
3) Schedule - Like a lot of moderately solid teams, the Heat are pretty decent at home, and pretty dismal on the road. They have 27 games remaining, and 15 of them are at home, so it could be worse from that perspective. Unfortunately, the games aren't spaced out particularly advantageously. They play eight of their first nine games in March at home, which will give them a chance to settle into the reality of life without Wade. They had better be in a good position at that point, though, because life gets hard, with 10 of the next 16 games away from home. If they don't come together well before that stretch then this could get really out of hand.
4) Attitude - This is the definition of hardship for a team, and it remains to be seen how they respond to it. In situations like this teams either rise up and overcome, or they collapse and curl up into the fetal position. Riley is an outstanding coach, but he faces an epic challenge to keep it together. Analysts are pointing positively to the fact that the Heat responded in their first game without Wade, covering the spread against the incredible Dallas Mavericks. Though that's true, it gives me absolutely no confidence - the spread was 12.5, and the Heat lost by 12, despite the fact that many of the Mavs' starters spent the last portion of the game resting on the bench. That's barely an accomplishment. We'll know fairly quickly if the team is going to exhibit the will to survive and thrive. If they do then they may be worth a bet. If they don't then their opponents become a bettors' best friend. They showed some signs on Sunday at home against Cleveland so we'll have to see how everything works out.