The Miami Heat entered Monday’s game against the Denver Nuggets with a comfortable 6 1/2-game lead over the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a dozen games to go.
But just because it would take an epic collapse at this point for Miami to miss the playoffs doesn’t mean the Heat is content on giving Dwyane Wade or Hassan Whiteside more time than they really need to heal from injuries.
According to coach Erik Spoelstra, when Wade (mild left hamstring strain) and Whiteside (left hip pain) are cleared by team doctors to return, they will be back to help the Heat continue its fight for better seeding.
“There’s only [a] health caution,” Spoelstra replied when asked if the team was being extra cautious because its of position to get back to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year. “We’re not going to bring them back until they’re ready to come back. We can’t look at it as other teams are looking at it — that we’re going to make sure we’re ready for the postseason. That’s not how it’s going to be for us. It’s go time and both of those guys know that. They’ve been very committed and diligent behind the scenes to working. But we have to do it smart, intelligently.”
Wade, who will miss his fourth consecutive game Monday with a mild strain of his left hamstring, went through part of shootaround on Monday. Whiteside, who will miss his fifth straight game with left hip pain, did not.
The Heat sits three games back of the Wizards (40-30) and Pacers (40-30) for the fourth and fifth seeds in the conference, two games behind the sixth-seeded Sixers (38-30) and a half game back of Milwaukee (37-32).
“I don’t think we ever really worry about getting caught,” guard Tyler Johnson said. “When you start looking behind you that’s usually when you get caught. We’ve always been trying to fight and move up. I think we’ve lost a couple ones we felt maybe we shouldn’t have. But at the same time I think everything is a learning experience down the stretch because most of us haven’t really gone through anything like that.”
▪ The Heat on Monday called up two-way forward Derrick Jones Jr. from G-League affiliate Sioux Falls to provide depth on the roster. Jones Jr. was with the Heat on Friday in Los Angeles, but did not play against the Lakers. He has two NBA days left on his 45-day contract if he’s activated for Monday’s game. Once his 45 days are up, the Heat must clear a spot on its 15-man roster to keep him.
▪ Spoelstra said Monday’s news Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, 40, is stepping away from the team to focus on his health was “certainly eye opening.” ESPN reported Lue was coughing up blood recently, but is hopeful to return to the team in a week’s time.
“I have no idea of what his health situation is, but when he wasn’t able to make it out a second time this season that raised probably a red flag with everybody,” Spoelstra, 46, said. “We hope Ty is doing OK. Health is the most important thing. We’re seeing some strange things with [Hornets coach Steve] Clifford going out and then with this. We have to mindful of our own individual health.”