Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade did not practice Friday and might not play in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday because of a strained right rib muscle strain he suffered Thursday, Heat Coach Stan Van Gundy said before the team boarded a flight to Detroit this afternoon.
Wade's injury is the most recent and worrisome for the Heat, which has a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series against the Pistons but doesn't have a single healthy player among its starting five.
With a chance to clinch its first trip to the NBA Finals, the Heat could not practice on the eve of Game 6 because all of its starters were deemed unavailable by the training staff, Van Gundy said.
Wade, however, is the only member of the starting five in question for the weekend. He was not on the court with his teammates taking free throws when members of the media were led out to the private court at American Airlines Arena.
Teammates said Wade, who has led the Heat in postseason scoring with a 28-point average, did not discuss his injury when he arrived at this morning's workout but did not appear dejected or downcast. Accustomed to taking a beating on game nights because of his high-flying style of play, Wade received treatment from trainer Ron Culp and watched film of the Pistons with the rest of the team.
"He's a great player," said Shaquille O'Neal, still nursing a right thigh bruise that caused him to miss two second-round playoff games. "If he can't go, he can't go. No one is going to question his will. . . . If he can't go, he must be really, really hurt."
Wade did not take questions from reporters Friday, but after Thursday's game -- an 88-76 victory for Miami -- he said he pulled the rib muscle while executing a crossover move that put him in position to score his final basket. Wade left the game late in the third quarter, returned at the start of the fourth, then departed for good with more than nine minutes remaining. In his absence, backup Rasual Butler scored 12 points, his best performance in the playoffs.
"I haven't been really been hurt all season too much, and to get this injury on something that was just, you know, a quick move, something that I do probably a hundred times a game, it [stinks]," Wade said after scoring just 15 points. "All I can do now is just try to get better for the next game so I can be out there with my teammates."
Several players said they expected Wade to be on the court Saturday. Butler said he received no notice of extra playing time, but was prepared to play. The Heat has grown accustomed to playing without at least one of its biggest stars; O'Neal missed a spate of late-season games because of the thigh injury and a severe stomach flu.
"It's a huge loss, but we've shown guys have been capable of stepping up and making plays," guard Damon Jones said. "We played a couple of playoff games without Shaq and got great production from our bench. . . . This situation is no different."
In this case, though, the difference could be compounding of the pain. Forward Eddie Jones injured his right ankle earlier in the playoffs. Damon Jones has a bruised right heel. Forward Udonis Haslem sports a dislocated middle finger on his left hand.
"It's a tough situation," Damon Jones said. "It's hard to get any time on the training table. I know I've been trying to get on for the last 30 minutes and it's filled up. Everybody's on the table getting some kind of treatment."
If the Heat wins Saturday, it would next open the Finals on Thursday in San Antonio. Should Miami lose, the Pistons and Heat would play the deciding Game 7 Monday in Miami. It's unclear whether Wade's injury would affect him into next week.
"He's a tough young fellow," Heat center Alonzo Mourning said. "I wouldn't expect anything less than for him to be out on the court."
Note: Van Gundy got a bit testy Friday when asked about Detroit's complaints -- which Van Gundy called "crying" -- about the officiating in the series.
"According to a lot of Pistons players, we haven't won a game in this series," Van Gundy said. "We're 0-2 in this series and we'll be looking for our first win [Saturday] night."