WASHINGTON -- A noticeable shift in the Heat’s training-room culture is beginning to reveal itself as more and more Heat players sustain minor injuries.
In years past, players were encouraged to play through pain. Not this season. With so much depth on the team, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has the luxury of giving players plenty of time to heal, and that’s what he’s doing. The hope is that players are fresh after the All-Star break and injury free heading into the playoffs.
On Tuesday, Shane Battier missed his third consecutive game with a slightly strained knee ligament, and Norris Cole sat out with a slightly strained groin muscle. Both players are expected to return to action Thursday against the Knicks.
“We feel that our depth is one of our best strengths and during the course of a long season you have to use that depth, and that will be the case tonight,” Spoelstra said before Tuesday’s tipoff.
Cole was a pregame scratch, and Battier is still feeling a slight pain in his right knee. Both players could have played if there were no other options, but, these days, the Heat has plenty of options. Plus, the Wizards have the worst record in the NBA.
“Our team is too deep to risk,” Battier said. “We don’t need to chance it.”
Battier participated in the Heat’s shootaround Tuesday morning at Georgetown University and wore a brace on his right knee during pregame drills. Battier strained his medial collateral ligament on Nov. 24 against the Cavaliers.
“I can do pretty much everything, it’s just a matter of how much pain is there and whether that pain limits my movement,” Battier said. “I can go out there right now, but I don’t know how effective I would be. That’s the key. We have such a deep team.”
Cole’s injury comes at a disappointing time for the second-year point guard. He is averaging 10 points in his past two games and has showed signs of an improved court awareness.
“I’m just getting in rhythm and getting a feel for the learning curve,” Cole said. “I’m getting used to the rotation and just growing into the game and growing into my role on my team.”
Heat guard Dwyane Wade has become one of Cole’s most trusted mentors. Wade has helped Cole digest the speed of the game. This is Cole’s first full season in the league. Last year, he didn’t have much time to digest anything because of the lockout and the shortened season.
“The game has slowed down a lot for me,” Cole said. “I know what I’m looking for when I’m out there. I know my role and exactly what I’m supposed to do.”
One day, LeBron James might have time to relax and reflect on the greatest year of his career, the year everything changed, the year Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Year. But that will not be anytime soon.
“I haven’t really had a chance to grasp this whole year for what it has meant to me and the people around me,” James said. “Anytime I’ve had any little bit of time it was time to get back out to work. Hopefully at some point I’ll just be able to sit back and relive some of the moments.”