As Challengers (Derrick Rose) Fall, Miami Heat Must Challenge Themselves

Ethan SkolnickNBA Senior WriterNovember 24, 2013

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 29: Derrick Rose
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

MIAMI -- The news reverberated from Chicago to both coasts Saturday, the news that Derrick Rose would need to reprise his return at some later date, after ripping the meniscus in his healthy knee, and likely shredding the Bulls' championship ambitions with it.

But the news really hit home here.

Dwyane Wade, after all, has been where Rose is—not just literally, as a fellow product of the Chicago area, but also figuratively, as an involuntary veteran of knee ailments.

So, after resting his knees for a week—and before scoring 27 points and defending dynamically down the stretch in a 101-99 win against the Magic—Wade was asked to recall his own experience with a torn meniscus, at a time he was trying to make his way at Marquette.

"It was 13 years ago, so technology was a little different," Wade said. "When it was taken out, it was the thing to get me back on the court quick, but it wasn't a long-term type of thing, so it opened me up to having some knee trouble. The only thing you do, the doctor that you choose, they give you the best advice."

Did Wade have any say in the decision to take it out rather than repair it?

"No, I wasn't educated, I didn't know anything," Wade said. "I just knew it was hurting, and I wanted it fixed. That was after my first year at Marquette, and I never dealt with any injury until that time. So it was all new to me. And I just wanted to get back on the court." 

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 23: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat shoots against the Orlando Magic on November 23, 2013 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photo
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Rose is far more educated about knee injuries now than Wade was then, especially after the Bulls star suffered a major one in 2012. He may not have the option to repair it, since sometimes that's not possible. But if he does, don't assume that Wade and the rest of the Heat are pulling for him to pull himself out of action for the longest possible period.

There was no joy in Heatville due to Chicago's distress. Many members of the organization offered their best wishes Saturday, whether on Twitter (Wade, Mario Chalmers) or through the media (LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra). They weren't offering kind words merely to placate a public that would otherwise think them unfeeling. They really didn't want to see this happen to him.

"I feel extremely bad for him," James said. "I was watching the game last night, and that was the one thing I feared most, that he had hurt his knee pretty bad."

And, as Spoelstra put it, "He's too good for the game to not be out there playing. If I were just an average fan and not working for the Miami Heat, I would tune into their games to watch Derrick Rose play. Hopefully it's not too bad, and hopefully he can come back and play soon."

Truly, he does, even if it might mean a somewhat tougher road to another title.

And it's not for humanitarian reasons alone.

Miami hasn't shrunk from challenges the past three-plus seasons. On the contrary, it has appeared to need them, to sharpen and sustain its edge.

Simply, there are too few tests in the Eastern Conference, which is so depleted that the Bulls, even without Rose, might be the third-best squad, if now a distant third behind Miami and Indiana. The Nets and Knicks are a combined 6-18. The Cavaliers and Pistons are dysfunctional and disappointing. The 76ers, Celtics and Magic are playing for draft position. The Hawks are 8-6 but didn't leave much of an impression on Miami's players last week. The West has won 18 of the past 19 games against the East overall, with the Wizards' win against the Timberwolves serving as the lone exception.

A rising Rose may have given Miami a little more reason to curtail the complacency, not just in contests against Chicago, but maybe even in a couple more of those against the conference's lesser lights, so as not to show any vulnerability. 

Instead, it seems like this season is setting up as one in which Saturday's scenario will be commonplace. At halftime, the Heat trailed by 16, closing out with all the enthusiasm of a bar patron on a bender, and allowing Orlando to make 9-of-13 three point shots.

"I wish I could have started watching and we could have started playing at halftime," Spoelstra said. "In the second half, we absolutely ramped up our intensity, activity. The second half was something our guys can feel good about it. And with this group, sometimes we have to go through the process of catching ourselves and getting back to our identity."

The problem is, the Heat know they can pull such a stunt against 20 or so teams, and still recover and survive. They can be bored, but not necessarily beaten.

So it will keep happening.

On this night, Wade had much to do with the Heat's rapid recovery, making eight of his final 10 shots, darting through for two dunks in the halfcourt, getting to the line, showing, as Spoelstra put it, "explosion" and "elusiveness." He also stifled Arron Afflalo when it counted. After James saved a broken possession by jab-stepping and sinking an 18-footer over Afflalo, Wade effectively shut off Affalo's foray to the rim, staying with him as the Orlando guard juked side to side.

"He looked fine in the first half," Spoelstra said of Wade. "In the second half, he was exceptional."

Thirteen years after doctors made a decision that could have turned out worse, but also—in light of all the pain he's had to overcome—better.

It made you think about what Wade said about Rose before the game:

"No matter who we compete against, you don't want to see anyone not be able to play the game of basketball, and live their dream before they want to."

That sentiment should be shared.

Derrick Rose, the game needs you.

And so, for different reasons, do the Heat.