Shaquille O'Neal looked over at Dwyane Wade, saw tears in his teammate's eyes and couldn't help but think: Here we go again.
Just when the defending NBA champion Miami Heat were getting back on track, they were dealt another major blow, losing Wade to a dislocated shoulder in a 112-102 loss to Houston on Wednesday night.
The extent of Wade's injury is unknown, but he was hurt late in the fourth quarter and taken to a Houston hospital.
"I knew it was pretty serious when I looked at him," O'Neal said. "His shoulder has been sore the last couple of weeks and he just got hit the wrong way. I think it popped out of place. But he's a tough kid, he's going to do what needs to be done to get back."
With O'Neal finally healthy and coach Pat Riley back on the bench, the Heat seemed poised to shake off their early struggles and surge in the second half of the season.
Instead the team watched as Wade was in so much pain that he had to be taken off in a wheelchair in the fourth quarter.
"If it's not one thing it's another," said O'Neal, who has played just 14 games this season because of knee surgery. "We've been through a lot this season."
Tracy McGrady scored 32 points to lead the Rockets to the win.
The Heat were 13-17 when Riley stepped down nearly seven weeks ago for operations to replace his left hip and repair cartilage in his right knee. They had rebounded recently, winning seven of their last eight games, but trailed by as many as 18 Wednesday and dropped back below .500.
"This is the way it's going to be this year I guess," Riley said. "We've had a lot of adversity. Things haven't been going well from the get go."
Wade, who left with 27 points, got tangled up with Shane Battier and grimaced in pain before going to the bench. A couple of minutes later he was helped into a wheelchair and taken off the bench. He was not moving his left arm and appeared to be in severe pain.
"Someone said we locked arms," Battier said. "All I know is Dwyane was on the sidelines grabbing his shoulder. I didn't think it was anything at first. I spun around. I hit somebody. I didn't know what happened."
The Heat said Wade, the MVP of last season's NBA finals, would not accompany the team on their trip to Dallas for Thursday night's game, instead going to a Houston hospital to have his injury diagnosed.
"Obviously we are disappointed with the loss, but we are more disappointed with the loss of Dwyane," Riley said. "We have to stay the course and if we can get Shaq to play the way he did tonight, we will be in pretty good shape. These things happen. We'll have to find out how long he will be out and other guys will have to step up."
Wade is third in the league in scoring, averaging 28.8 points per game.
Alonzo Mourning said they can't use Wade's injury as an excuse, regardless of how serious it may be.
"It's unfortunate, but you've got to deal with it and move on," he said. "I do know this: We got enough in here to get it done, regardless of if he's out or not. We're deep enough, we've got enough experience. It's just a matter of guys coming mentally and physically prepared every night."
O'Neal, who said he feels like he's getting back to his old self, agreed and said he's prepared to step up in Wade's absence.
"I have to be more aggressive and get more looks and keep everyone else involved," he said. "Coach is calling my play and if he keeps calling them, I will deliver."
James Posey knows that if Wade is out for an extended period, feeding the ball to O'Neal will be the key to success.
"We have to keep the big fellow going," he said. "Everybody else needs to keep shooting and we must stay together as a team."
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