Bandaged and bruised, Heat stumble back to brink of playoff elimination

TORONTO -- Forget advanced metrics and analytics.

At this point, it's clear that MRIs and X-ray machines will ultimately determine whether it's the Toronto Raptors or the Miami Heat that will survive and advance to face Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals next week. Training rooms have been converted into makeshifts triages.

"Both teams are losing guys left and right, but you won't find us making excuses," said Heat co-captain Udonis Haslem, who technically was one of the healthier players to emerge from the wreckage that was Game 5 Wednesday. "Everybody's dealing with something. We're fighting for our season."

That's especially the case now for Miami for the second time this postseason. The Heat return home down 3-2 and face elimination entering Game 6 on Friday after falling 99-91 on Wednesday to the Raptors, who are a win away from making the conference finals for the first time in their 21-year history.

The only problem is finding enough capable bodies to play. The Heat rallied from a 3-2 series deficit in the first round against Charlotte after getting a huge fourth-quarter performance from Dwyane Wade in a Game 6 victory on the road, and then a breakout effort from Goran Dragic to win Game 7 at home. If nothing else, Miami has a chance to make history by becoming the first NBA team to battle back twice in the same postseason from a 3-2 deficit to advance in the playoffs.

The Heat have been a defiant and resilient team all season. They might now have to overcome being overwhelmingly depleted going into Friday's season-salvaging game. Already without perennial All-Star forward Chris Bosh since February to a season-ending medical condition, Miami lost starting center Hassan Whiteside in Game 3 against Toronto to a sprained knee ligament and is awaiting the status of small forward Luol Deng after a wrist injury knocked him from Wednesday's game in the third quarter.

In essence, the Heat could be without their entire starting frontcourt for the most defining game of their season. Whiteside is not expected to be available, and Deng could be ruled out if MRI results on Thursday reveal significant damage. The injury situation left the atmosphere in the Heat's postgame locker room late Wednesday night more deflated than defeated.

But the demoralizing injury cloud in this series is hanging over both teams. For as bad as the Heat's situation is, the Raptors are far from pillars of health. Toronto was already without center Jonas Valanciunas, who suffered a series-ending ankle injury in Game 3, and is awaiting MRI results on forward DeMarre Carroll's left wrist injury that knocked him out of Game 5. Star guard DeMar DeRozan is pushing through a thumb injury he described as feeling as if a blowtorch was on his hand.

From this point forward, pain tolerance might determine the winner just as much as point total.

"It's very unfortunate," said Wade, who led Miami with 20 points and helped the team dig out of a 20-point deficit in the first half. "Luol [is] an important part of our team, just like DeMarre is for them. We've lost two big guys in this series so far. The worst part of basketball is injuries; it changes the whole outlook of your team, but you keep pushing along. We'll be ready for Game 6."

Even before the injuries set in, the Heat's offense was already ailing. Deng, who missed all eight of his shots Wednesday, is having miserable series after being the Heat's most consistent player against Charlotte. And Joe Johnson finally made his first 3-pointer of the series Wednesday to improve to 1-for-17 from beyond the arc through five games.

The only threat of consistent offense has come from Wade, but that is hardly enough. Still, the Heat will try to draw from experience and desperation -- two elements that brought them back in the first round.

"It's similar, but we just have to stay poised and other guys have to be ready to step up," Johnson said. "That's how it has to be right now. It's tough, but we have to play through it. There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves. If one man goes down, another man has to be ready."

The Heat are running out of time, options and healthy bodies.

Even patching themselves together was a major challenge after Game 5, when there weren't enough ice buckets to go around the visitors locker room for the walking wounded. Because of the shortage, they were disseminated based on seniority.

Haslem, a 13-year veteran, got one of the last available buckets to soak his foot. He has been playing through a torn plantar fascia for two weeks now. That meant rookie Justise Winslow had to wait a few extra moments to submerge his sore ankle in ice as his knees were wrapped in bandages. Next to Winslow sat fellow rookie Josh Richardson, who had his ribcage and shoulder wrapped in ice.

And this was in the healthy wing of the Heat's locker room.

"Whatever it takes," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We have enough."

Do they have enough confidence and faith? Absolutely.

But are there enough healthy limbs and ligaments?

Only the X-ray machines and MRI exams know.