One step away from a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, struggling Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aim to regain enough of a stride to help LeBron James finish off the Indiana Pacers.
A sore right knee continues to limit Wade's effectiveness during the least-productive playoff series of his 10-year career, while a sprained right ankle has contributed to Bosh's scoring and rebounding woes the past two games.
Both Wade and Bosh hope to bounce back Saturday when the Heat carry their 3-2 series lead into Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Game 6 with a chance to close out the Pacers and advance to the Finals to face San Antonio.
“Nobody is 100 percent,” Bosh said Friday before the Heat's team flight to Indianapolis. “It's just really all mental. Just knowing you have to come in, you have to do your job better than the other guy and know that everyone is ailing a bit. But that's part of the game, especially this time of the year. Everybody has to rise to the challenge.”
That challenge grew steeper for Bosh when the NBA announced Friday that Heat reserve center Chris Andersen is suspended for Game 6 for his role in Thursday's altercation with Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough.
The absence of Andersen's interior scoring, defense, rebounding and energy will create a void for the Heat that demands more production from Bosh, Udonis Haslem and seldom-used center Joel Anthony against Indiana's physical and productive big men in Roy Hibbert and David West.
Bosh said the only choice is to embrace the opportunity.
“[You] have to love pain, love basketball, love the game,” Bosh said. “And love the position you're in.”
With Bosh and Wade limited, James has picked up the additional slack. The four-time MVP has scored at least 30 points in three of the five games against the Pacers. After putting up 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists in Thursday's pivotal win, James said he reverted to his role with the Cleveland Cavaliers as a more aggressive scorer.
Moments later, James also said the talent and depth of the Heat's roster was the reason he came to Miami in 2010 with expectations to compete for a championship every season.
Miami is on the cusp of defending its title even as James' top sidekicks search for ways to be more effective in hopes of getting past the Pacers and overcoming the Spurs.
Wade is averaging 13.9 points and shooting 46 percent from the field in the playoffs. He enters Saturday coming off a lethargic 3-of-8 shooting effort in Game 5 that included three turnovers, six rebounds and four assists.
Wade said not a game goes by that he doesn't wish he could break out to score 20 or 30 points. But he believes his biggest contribution to the team right now is simply his ability to be on the court and contribute anything he can.
Having been slowed by multiple bruises in his right knee for more than two months, Wade said Friday he communicates frequently with James about his condition and how much he might be able to offer on a given night.
“It's understood,” Wade said. “I tell him, 'I'm going to give you everything I've got, and that's all I can do at this point.' I would love to score 20, 30 points a night. But everyone looks at how many points I put up and that determines my success. That doesn't determine my success on this team.”
Wade said he “can't put into words” how frustrating it's been for him to struggle throughout the playoffs, in large part because his body isn't allowing him to get to his game. In previous years, Wade said he would have forced up far more shots than the eight he took Thursday in an effort to provide more scoring and finish with better overall stats.
“If [Saturday] is a night I'm feeling better and I can go for more points, then I'm going to try to be aggressive,” Wade said. “But if it's a game where I have to make plays for other guys and give up myself, then that's what I'll do. It's about winning this time of the year and not the individual.”
While Bosh said Friday he's recommitted himself to focusing exclusively on defensive rebounding, Wade's goal is to continue to defend Paul George and make the Pacers' rising superstar work hard for every shot he takes. Despite his dip in scoring, Wade is still second on the Heat in steals and assists behind James and third in blocks in the playoffs.
“It's tough, but I can't sit at home,” Wade said. “I have to come out here, and I have to do what I can every day and every night to help my team win. Small things [are] what I have to do right now until my body lets me do more.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the team will continue to look for timely contributions from others to help fill any voids.
Big boosts have come the past three games from Haslem and Mario Chalmers. Haslem has shot 19-for-23 from the field and averaged 12.6 points the past three games. Chalmers has attacked the rim to average 15.3 points a game during that same stretch. Haslem and Chalmers have emerged at a time when Bosh and Wade have struggled.
“Other guys are stepping up, and it might just be that we need a game from somebody [unexpected] to get us over the hump,” Spoelstra said. “It's about whatever it takes. I understand the storylines that are out there. Let's just get the job done together. If we get the results we want, no one will remember those storylines.”