MIAMI -- What do you get when you take a truncated training camp, add a compressed, 66-game NBA season and stir an incredibly tight race for playoff positioning at the end of the regular season?
A recipe for potential disaster when it comes to keeping players healthy, said the Heat's LeBron James, one star who has managed to avoid major injuries this season.
A day after the Bulls' Derrick Rose and the Knicks' Iman Shumpert suffered season-ending knee injuries in playoff openers, James said Sunday that the lockout-shortened season has taken a toll on everyone's body.
"Look at Dwight Howard, who for the most part has played in 98 percent of his games since high school, and now he has a season-ending injury because of his back," James said. "And with D-Rose, it's the same way. He's always been in the lineup until this year.
"There's been so many injuries -- hamstring injuries and knee injuries and things like that -- it really could be because of the shortened season. It's been a tough season for all of us. It was very taxing on all of our bodies."
Knicks point guard Baron Davis, who was sidelined by a herniated disc in his back earlier this season, also thinks the shortened season is to blame for the many injuries.
"This has been a compressed season, a lot more games," Davis said. "Guys never really got ample time to rest."
The Heat's Dwyane Wade, who had been playing with a sore left knee, was the one player not quite ready to draw a direct correlation between the compact schedule and injuries to high-profile players.
"I don't know, man. It's a lot of speculation," Wade said. "It doesn't matter because we have to play the games. We're in the playoffs. Those kind of injuries are nothing we want to see for any players in the NBA, but you don't know if it's because of the schedule."
Whatever the reason, the strange reality is that the injury situation makes the Heat even more of a favorite to cruise back to the NBA Finals. The Knicks, whom the Heat routed, 100-67, in Game 1 Saturday, will return for Game 2 Monday night minus Shumpert, their best perimeter defender, and Jeremy Lin, their starting point guard, who has been out since undergoing knee surgery April 2.
Beyond the Knicks, the Heat's two biggest obstacles, Howard with Orlando and Rose with Chicago, have been removed. That basically leaves the Celtics as the only Eastern Conference team with any kind of chance to challenge the Heat. The Celtics beat the Heat in three of their four meetings this season, but they are old. Ray Allen missed Sunday night's's Game 1 against the Hawks because of an ankle injury and Paul Pierce is nursing one.
One game into the first round, James and his teammates were in no mood to comment Sunday on their path back to the Finals. Said James: "For now, we're just thinking about the Knicks."