LOS ANGELES -- For someone who makes a living darting through double teams and masterfully weaving his way out of tight spots, the sheer irony in the question Wednesday was enough to rock Dwyane Wade backward into his seat as he struggled for an answer.
Where do the Miami Heat go from here?
"I don't know," Wade said as the Heat wrapped up their morning shootaround at Santa Monica High School's cozy gym. "I really don't know. Um, I just don't know. We'll see, man."
For much of the past three months, Wade has faced repeated questions about the challenges in establishing chemistry with point guard Goran Dragic in a Miami backcourt that features two players whose ball-dominant styles aren't exactly an ideal fit.
And for the past three months, Wade and Dragic have gradually -- at times begrudgingly -- tried to work through the kinks that have left the Heat's offensive system in a passive-aggressive tug of war between the two well-intentioned catalysts.
Well, the Heat don't have to worry about chemistry right now between Wade and Dragic, which had actually been improving this month. There are bigger concerns for Miami, with Dragic now sidelined indefinitely with a strained calf he sustained at some point during Monday's loss to Golden State.
The main question now is, how will the Heat manage without Dragic? The initial answer was an ugly one Wednesday, particularly in the second half as Miami completely collapsed on both ends of the court on the way to a 104-90 loss to the Clippers. You know it's a bad night when turning a 16-point lead into a 20-point deficit doesn't even represent the biggest setback of the day.
That came much earlier in the day, when the Heat announced Dragic would be sent home to undergo an MRI on his strained left calf. No one is certain exactly when the injury occurred, but Dragic and coach Erik Spoelstra believe it was in the second half of Monday's loss. Dragic sat out Wednesday's meltdown against the Clippers and was scheduled to return to Miami for Thursday's exam, meaning he will miss the final stops of the trip in Denver on Friday and Sunday against Oklahoma City.
Although initial tests during a medical visit in Los Angeles on Tuesday eased fears of a muscle tear, Dragic said he was told by doctors that he had "a bad strain."
The setback couldn't have come at a worse time for the Heat, who are in the midst of brutal stretch in which they play 14 of 16 on the road.
There was no direction Wednesday night against the Clippers, who capitalized on a season-high 24 Heat turnovers and used a 38-10 run to offset a sluggish start and extend the NBA's longest current win streak to 10 games. Dragic's presence wouldn't have solved all of the Heat's problems on Wednesday, but there is no doubt that Miami isn't equipped to endure a potential extended absence.
Barely able to hide his disappointment, Dragic explained before Wednesday's game how the latest blow in a difficult first full season with the Heat has added another burden.
"It's frustrating, of course," Dragic said. "I want to be here helping the team, but it's part of the game. Now, the only thing I can do is do my part of the job -- try to get healthy as fast as possible. When we have MRI, we're going to know a little bit more. We don't know. We cannot put a timetable on [a return]. Hopefully, it'll be quick healing, but you never know."
What the Heat obviously know now is they're in a tough spot. Injuries are piling up -- and so are the frustrations. There were multiple times against the Clippers when team captains Wade and Chris Bosh stormed into timeout huddles admonishing teammates for repeated breakdowns.
And after corrections were discussed, it was only a matter of time before the lapses resurfaced.
"It's like the same thing every time," a dejected Bosh said from his locker after the game. "We keep saying the same things. But if we're not going to go out there and do it, none of it matters."
Spoelstra was short on answers as well when asked about some of the heated exchanges between Heat players in the game. Hassan Whiteside and Gerald Green were initially constant targets of constructive criticism -- and more demonstrative messages as the mistakes continued.
"Each one of us has to own that, starting with me," said Spoelstra, who pointed out the third quarter, when the Heat were outscored 34-17. "It was just bad basketball. "We all have to develop a better mental toughness. We're the same team that won the first game on this trip. And we're the same team that stunk up the joint tonight. We have to find a way to get more consistency from the team we like."
It could be a while before that preferred team is seen again.
There's no telling right now how long Dragic could be sidelined. A similar calf strain kept Whiteside out for nearly a month, when he missed all of training camp and most of the preseason. But Whiteside, the NBA's leader in blocked shots, is currently slowed by a sore knee that has diminished his play the last two weeks. As Wade sat in his locker after the game, he had both shoulders heavily wrapped in ice as well as additional ice on both knees.
The ice on Wade's knees after games is a normal part of his treatment and recovery process. But the upper torso is becoming more of an issue as he plays through bruises in both shoulders.
"It's the NBA," Wade said earlier Wednesday. "Everyone deals with injuries. It's unfortunate. You can't say the 'Here we go again' scenario. Just figure out what you have to do. Everyone is going through something right now, but you have to do what you can do."
Yet it's clear that patience is running thin on a team that Bosh insists has a penchant "for taking two steps forward and then one huge step back every time" the Heat get a chance to build momentum.
"I'm not going to sit here and list everything," Spoelstra said when asked what went wrong Wednesday.
After initially struggling to find a rhythm in the offense this season, Dragic was having his best month of the season in January. He is averaging 15.3 points and shooting 53.0 percent from the field overall, including 52.4 percent from 3-point range, over the past seven games.
Yet, the Heat struggled to consistently find direction with him.
On their first night without him, they were completely lost.