MIAMI (AP) - Dwyane Wade flew home from Houston early Thursday, his season in limbo after he dislocated his left shoulder in Miami's game against the Rockets.
The prospect of Wade's extended absence left in jeopardy the Heat's bid to repeat as NBA champions.
The All-Star guard returned to South Florida in a private plane and was picked up by his wife. He was to be examined at a hospital later Thursday to determine the extent of his injury, which came Wednesday night in the fourth quarter of the Heat's 112-102 loss to Houston.
"I knew it was pretty serious when I looked at him," teammate Shaquille 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 left the court in a wheelchair.
"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.
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."
With the NBA trading deadline hours away Thursday, Heat owner Micky Arison declined to speculate on whether his team would swing a deal. He said he hadn't heard from Riley as of early afternoon.
Wade, who scored 27 points, was playing defense when his left arm collided with Houston's Shane Battier and awkwardly stretched back. The grimacing Heat guard walked off the court hunched over clutching his arm and briefly sat in tears of pain on the bench as he was examined. He was then wheeled away and went to a hospital in an ambulance.
"All I know is Dwyane was on the sidelines grabbing his shoulder," Battier said. "I didn't think it was anything at first. I spun around. I hit somebody. I didn't know what happened."
Wade was third in the league in scoring, averaging 28.8 points.
"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."
Center Alonzo Mourning said the Heat 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."
Forward James Posey knows that if Wade is out for an extended period, feeding the ball to O'Neal will be the key to success.