As the Heat battled the Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference on Friday night, Dwyane Wade played spectator yet again as his injured hamstring sidelined him for the ninth game in a row.
Wade has now missed more than one-third of the regular season (28 games) because of injuries or rest for his balky knees.
His latest setback, a strained hamstring, occurred during the final two minutes of the Heat’s loss to the Pacers two weeks ago in Indianapolis.
Coach Erik Spoelstra reiterated before Friday’s game that Wade is “getting closer” to a return.
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But lately it sounds like Spoelstra says that every day. Is the Heat simply saving Wade until the playoffs?
“When he’s able to play, he’s playing,” Spoelstra said. “We’re not saving him. Once he gets cleared and the three of us [Spoelstra, Wade and trainer Jay Sabol] are on the same page, boom, we’re going with it.”
LeBron James insists Wade’s absence hasn’t affected him mentally because “I can only focus on what I can control.”
“I know about him being excused from the game when [reporters] know about it,” James said. “So, I don’t really put too much energy into that because I have to worry about what I can do on the floor to help our team win.”
Toney Douglas started in Wade’s place for the ninth consecutive time.
“With Toney, he gives us an element that is similar to Dwyane, and we’re able to keep that second unit together,” Spoelstra said.
“I like the minutes that he’s giving us. He gives that defensive toughness, starts our defense with that quickness.”
Spoelstra said forward Michael Beasley has done “nothing really” to keep himself out of the lineup despite the Heat being short-handed of late.
Beasley, sixth on the team in scoring at 7.9 points per game, had only played in six of the Heat’s past 15 games entering Friday night.
He hasn’t played significant minutes since March 24 at home against Portland, when he had two points in 15 minutes.
“He’s fully on board with this team … it’s not an indictment on Michael certainly,” Spoelstra said.
“This team is just about, ‘How can you help us?’ And when we get to that postseason, help us win a possession, help us win a quarter, help us win a game, help us win a series, whatever it may be. Help us win by helping us prepare. He’s been able to wrap his mind around that.
“So, when I made the change [to the rotation three weeks ago] we had some adversity with our lineups. Just out of consistency I’ve kept it with that unit.”
Spoelstra said there’s “an opening for everybody” to get involved in the Heat’s playoff run.
“He has to look no further than the guy sitting right next to him in the locker room: Udonis Haslem,” Spoelstra said.
“He’s had incredibly big moments in playoffs where sometimes he’s been part of it and sometimes he hasn’t. James Jones, Rashard [ Lewis], all of these guys. You just have to be ready to contribute. Nobody is written off. We do not have [a] proverbial dog house. What we have is a group of 15 guys, 15 men that are ready to contribute and help us try to win this thing.”