Why Dwyane Wade's Hamstring Pull Is Dangerous: Six Title Teams Felled by Injury
It took only 3 minutes into the Miami Heat’s first pre-season game for one of their Big Three to go down.
While only a pulled hamstring, Dwyane Wade’s history of injury problems as well as the Heat’s top-heavy roster should give Miami fans plenty to worry about.
An undersized shooting guard at 6’4 with an unguardable first-step, the biggest strength of Wade’s game is his ability to get into the paint and draw fouls, often exaggerating contact as he pratfalls to the ground.
As a result, he has been an injury risk his entire career. In seven seasons, he has yet to play all 82 games, and has missed more than 20 games three different times.
A team centered around LeBron and Chris Bosh will still win close to 60 games, but without Wade, the Heat aren’t quite the media-generated monster they have been portrayed to be.
In hindsight, NBA championships often seem pre-ordained – with the last 20-odd years a smooth transition from Bird and Magic to Jordan to Shaq and Kobe. But six times over the last decade, injuries have played a crucial role in determining the eventual NBA champion.
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Tim Duncan, 2000 San Antonio Spurs
Duncan’s Spurs have been the model of consistency over the course of his entire career. In 13 seasons, they have missed the second round of the playoffs only twice.
In 2000, they were coming off their first championship season, with a tested veteran core of David Robinson, Sean Elliot and Avery Johnson surrounding Duncan.
But Duncan tore cartilage in his left knee towards the end of the regular season, and without their All-NBA power forward, the 53-win defending champions team limped to a first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Most frustrating of all, a Lakers team they had swept the year before romped to the NBA title in a suddenly wide-open Western Conference.
Chris Webber, 2003 Sacramento Kings
While Kings fans will never forget the referee-marred 2000 Western Conference Finals, 2003 might have been their best chance at a championship.
In the second round of the playoffs, the Spurs knocked off their long-time nemesis and three-time defending champion Lakers while the Kings were matched up against a Mavericks team they had handled easily in the past.
But in the second game of that series, All-Star PF Chris Webber crumbled to the ground untouched with a devastating knee injury. An undermanned Sacramento team fought Dallas to seven games before eventually falling short.
A healthy 59-win squad would have been a formidable opponent to easily the weakest of the Spurs championship teams, with David Robinson set to retire and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili still too callow to play meaningful fourth-quarter minutes.
Webber, without his explosiveness, was never the same after the injury; the Kings traded him two seasons later to the 76ers and they never again challenged for a championship.
Dirk Nowitzki, 2003 Dallas Mavericks
Just as quickly as the basketball gods giveth, they taketh away.
After dispatching a Webber-less Kings squad in seven games, a 60-win Mavericks squad was confident before facing long-time nemesis San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals. Especially after stealing home-court advantage with a 113-110 victory in Game 1 on the Spurs’ home-court.
But in Game 3, Dirk crumbled to the ground after colliding with Manu Ginobili on a rebound.
Without their superstar, the Mavs pushed the eventual champion Spurs squad to six games, before San Antonio dusted off unlikely hero Steve Kerr to bury them in Game 6 with a barrage of 3-pointers.
It would be the last great push for the Mavs Big Three; the next time Dallas reached the Conference Finals, Finley, Nash and coach Don Nelson would be gone.
Dwyane Wade, 2005 Miami Heat
When Miami acquired a motivated Shaquille O’Neal in the summer of 2004, they instantly became title contenders. And while the Wade-Shaq Heat are most remembered for their whistle-plagued march to the 2006 title, few remember the 2005 squad which might have been its equal.
Wade thrived playing with a low-post threat, and a healthy Shaq finished 2nd in the MVP race.
The Heat were up in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons when Wade suffered a strained rib muscle taking the ball to the basket.
After missing Game 6, a hobbled Wade shot 7-20 in Game 7 and the Heat were unable to hold off the Pistons despite a lead with three minutes left.
The Pistons would go on to push the San Antonio Spurs to a nail-biting 7-game NBA Finals with Robert Horry turning the balance with a last-second overtime 3 in Game 5.
Trevor Ariza, 2008 Los Angeles Lakers
Easily the least accomplished player on this list, Ariza’s broken foot nonetheless played a crucial role in the Lakers’ defeat to Boston in the 2008 NBA Finals.
Acquired in a mid-season trade from Orlando, Ariza, an exceptional athlete at 6’8 and 200 pounds, quickly became LA’s perimeter stopper. But after injuring his foot, he played a limited role in that year’s play-offs.
LA was forced to go with the combination of Vladimir Radmanovic and Luke Walton at the small forward position, and Paul Pierce went off, leading the Celtics to the championship and winning the Finals MVP.
The next time both teams met in the Finals, the Lakers had Ron Artest, whose stifling defense on Pierce was key to their 2010 championship.
Kevin Garnett, 2009 Boston Celtics
After rampaging though the league and rolling the Lakers in six in the NBA Finals in their first year together, the new-look Boston Celtics were the favorites to repeat as NBA champions.
They opened out of the gate with an incredible 27-2 record and seemed poised to secure home-court throughout the entire play-offs.
Then disaster struck in mid-March when their All-NBA PF Kevin Garnett landed awkwardly on his knee.
While the full extent of the injury was never disclosed, Garnett, robbed of his athleticism, didn’t play the rest of the year and hasn’t been the same since.
After losing in an 7-game series to the Orlando Magic in the second round, the Celtics were forced to watch a Lakers team they had beaten easily the year before win the championship.