When Dion Waiters last played, he had his best performance in a Miami Heat uniform.
Waiters scored a season-high 28 points, shot a season-best 52.6 percent from the field (10-of-19), made a season-high four three-pointers and had five rebounds and six assists in 36 grueling minutes of a 110-107 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies back on Nov. 26.
How hard has it been sitting and watching with a small groin tear for the past six weeks?
“Very hard,” he said Sunday night before the Heat dropped their fifth game in a row to the Detroit Pistons to fall to 10-25 and 5-14 overall with Waiters out.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating to watch knowing that you can be out there just making a difference and even just going to battle with your guys. I’ve never been the type of guy that like to miss any games, let alone this long. I’ve never missed this many games in my career. It’s very frustrating, man, but I’m glad to be back. Hopefully I’ll [start] the new year on the right path, and just turn this thing around.”
Waiters wasn’t quite ready for a return in Tuesday night’s game in Phoenix, but he’s continued to make progress, practicing for the first time with his teammates on Monday and then through shootaround on Tuesday. He should be on the court before the Heat wrap up its six-game road trip.
Signed to a cheap, two-year, roughly $6 million deal with a $3 million player option he’s sure to opt out of for next season, Waiters, 25, has every motivation to come back and perform at a high level so he can earn a bigger pay day in free agency.
He also has every motivation to be smarter about paying attention to the signs of pain and discomfort in his groin, an ongoing issue for him throughout his career. Waiters admitted he basically ignored those sign through the early parts of the season and when doctors finally examined it they realized he had a Pectineus tear.
“I’ve just got to be honest,” Waiters said Sunday. “I think just early in the year when I played with it, like 10 games, kind of just ignoring it, I just kept playing and it made it worse, I guess. That’s what it was, just telling them the truth of how I really feel and just being smart about the whole situation so I don’t get in this situation again.”
The Heat, who ranked third in the league on Jan. 1 in terms of games missed (103) by the 14 active players on the roster this season, could sorely use the Waiters who was beginning to emerge right before he got injured. Over his last eight games, he was averaging 18.8 points, shooting 41.3 percent from the field, 34.2 percent from three-point range with 3.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.1 steals a game.
Waiters was also defending really well, holding opponents to 6.9 percent below their regular shooting percentage (37 percent overall), which ranks second on the team. The differential is the best of his career.
Although he was a starter in his first 16 games with the team, coach Erik Spoelstra said Tuesday that when Waiters does return he’ll be brought off the bench so he can “get his rhythm back.”
“Obviously what he brings is another multidimensional player,” Spoelstra said. “He can defend multiple positions. He was showing that a high level right before he got injured being able to guard ones, twos, threes and fours sometimes on switches. [He’s] much stronger and sturdier than even he would appear to be able to guard bigger players.
“Offensively, he can do a little bit of everything, which we need and we like. He can put the ball on the floor, make plays for other guys, create his offense when he's stuck at the end of the clock. And quite frankly he's another body, a talent. We can certainly use him.”
CAN THEY COEXIST?
The key for the Heat will be getting Waiters and point guard Goran Dragic to coexist and bring out the best in each other. Advanced metrics show Dragic has the ball an average of 5.21 seconds per touch, tops on the team. Waiters is next on the team at 4.20 seconds per touch.
During Waiters’ stellar eight-game stretch before he tweaked his groin, Dragic missed four of those games. After Waiters went out and Dragic returned on Nov. 28, Dragic went from averaging 15.5 points, 5.6 assists and shooting 41.8 percent from the field through his first 11 games of the season to averaging 22.3 points, 7.3 assists and shooting 47.7 percent in the 15 games before he tweaked his back.
Together, Dragic and Waiters are two of the most aggressive rim attackers in the league. Dragic leads the league in drives to the basket (14.1 per game) and Waiters ranks ninth (10.6).
▪ Center Hassan Whiteside, who missed his second straight game Tuesday in Phoenix with a bruised retina in his right eye, will be reevaluated Wednesday in Miami, Spoelstra said.
Team doctors suggested for Whiteside not to fly after he returned home from Boston early Saturday morning and had an MRI performed.
“It was a scratch and a contusion,” Spoelstra said. “But he is starting to get better.”
COMING UP NEXT
Wednesday: Heat at Kings
When/where: 10:30 p.m., Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, Calif.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Heat lead 39-17
Scouting report: The Heat picked up their first home win of the season 108-96 in overtime over the Kings back on Nov. 1 and has won five consecutive games in the series. The Kings, who were in Denver Tuesday night, are 7-7 at home.