Starting Thursday night in Chicago, the Heat will play four games in six nights, all on the road.
After facing the Bulls, who have lost guard Derrick Rose for the season but still can be difficult because of their defense, the Heat go to Minneapolis to take on the Timberwolves Saturday night.
The next night, they are at Detroit to face a Piston team that just handed them their worst loss of the season, a 107-97 whipping before the Heat’s own crowd in Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena.
After an off day, the Heat finish the road swing Tuesday night in Indianapolis against the Pacers, who likely will be looking for some kind of statement game after their loss to the Heat in last season’s Eastern Conference finals.
At 16-2 going into Wednesday night’s game in Utah, the Pacers have the best record in the Eastern Conference and present several match-up problems inside for the Heat.
In fact, one of the reasons the Heat, who are 14-4, signed bulky but injury-plagued Greg Oden in the offseason was to have Oden ready for a possible rematch with the Pacers in the playoffs next spring.
Oden, of course, won’t be available the first of the four regular-season meetings between the two. Having made a brief appearance in one preseason game, Oden is still rehabbing from injuries that derailed his career in Portland, where he was the No. 1 pick in the draft out of Ohio State in 2007.
Oden is not the immediate concern, however.
More pertinent now is the status of guard Dwyane Wade. Wade sat out Tuesday’s loss to the Piston, the fourth time in 18 games he has been held out to rest aching knees that apparently were aggravated two nights before in the Heat’s comeback win over Charlotte.
Again, the long-term implications of Wade’s knee problems may be more important than the upcoming stretch. If he can’t play more than three or four consecutive games without taking a break, what’s that going to mean when the playoff grind of playing every other night begins?
Yes, yes, it’s early, and perhaps the time he takes off in the regular season will make it easier for Wade late in the season. But note also that without Wade in the lineup, the Heat are only 2-2. They are 12-2 with him.