Miami Heat forward Shane Battier is expected to miss at least the next two games after spraining his knee on Saturday against the Cavaliers.
Battier said after the Heat’s practice on Monday that he injured the medial-collateral ligament of his right knee. He did not practice and he will likely sit out practice on Wednesday. The Heat has Tuesday off. It’s unclear when he will return, but the sprain was minor enough that it did not require an MRI.
“I think it could have been a lot worse than it actually was,” Battier said. “I’ve sprained my MCL before, so I knew what it felt like. I knew exactly what it was.”
While Heat coach Erik Spoelstra hasn’t ruled Battier out for Thursday’s game against the Spurs, Heat forward LeBron James is already preparing himself for possibly moving to power forward defensively.
“It’s unfortunate we’re not going to have him for the next few games,” James said. “But we have enough guys to step up and come in and make plays.”
Injuries never come at a good time, but the Heat’s current home schedule allows Battier down time without missing many games. San Antonio is the Heat’s only game during a five-day span.
If Battier sits out Thursday, it will be the first time Spoelstra has had to adjust his starting frontcourt since the 2012 playoffs. It was then that Battier emerged as a solid option at power forward despite being undersized for the position.
“I don’t even want to go there yet because all of us already know all of the little things he does to help you win and when you take out a player like that, it doesn’t necessarily show up on a box score but initially we would probably see a factor similar to when Chris [Bosh] went out,” Spoelstra said. “You realize, ‘Oh, wow. Here are all the things we took for granted from Shane,’ and other players will have to step up in those intangible categories.”
The Heat had a difficult time adjusting when Bosh went down in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 playoffs. Battier solved the problem, playing well against Pacers power forward David West. He has started at power forward ever since and is currently tied with Ray Allen as the team’s leading three-point shooters (27).
“Each day will make a new evaluation,” Spoelstra said of Battier’s status.
While Battier’s injury is a setback, Spoelstra is not without options. If he wanted to play a traditional lineup, Spoelstra could start Udonis Haslem at center and slide Bosh to power forward.
A smaller lineup, fitting with Spoelstra’s “position-less” approach, could be moving James to power forward and starting Mike Miller at small forward.
“We can look at different rotations but it will still come down to … who would replace all those little things [Battier] does arguably as well as anyone in this league,” Spoelstra said.
Spoelstra said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to insert a player like Miller into the lineup in order to preserve the continuity of his first second unit.
“We know who our top 11 or 12 are right now, so it doesn’t change dramatically one way or the other,” Spoelstra said.
Battier injured his knee on Saturday when Udonis Haslem fell backward while taking a charge.
The collision bent Battier’s right leg awkwardly and he immediately jogged to the locker room. Battier suffered a similar but more severe injury with the Houston Rockets.
In assuming the difficult task of guarding opponents’ power forwards, Battier has spread the floor for the Heat on the offensive end. The mismatch has created space for Dwyane Wade and James to drive to the basket as well as allow Bosh to go against opponents’ centers.
“Do we call him our second-most important player if Chris is our most important guy in terms of making things work?” Spoelstra said. “Shane is 1-A because of all the little things that he does, and I hope we don’t have to find out how much we miss him.”