With a postseason spot locked up, the Miami Heat is making health the priority over seeding in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Dwyane Wade (left wrist), Goran Dragic (right ankle), and James Johnson (left ankle), who have been playing through nagging injuries, were given the night off Wednesday by coach Erik Spoelstra before the Heat took on the Hawks (22-56) at Philips Arena.
“We’ve made a pretty hard push to get that checkmark,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re not exhaling at all, but these guys have been pushing through quite a bit these last few weeks. And, the next two days, we would just like to see them get a bunch of rest and treatment and then we’ll reevaluate on Friday.”
The Heat (42-36) entered Wednesday’s game with the same record as the Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks, but ahead of both teams in the standings by virtue of Miami’s division record (10-5) being better than Washington’s (8-6).
The Bucks and Wizards play Thursday. Washington plays at Cleveland and Milwaukee hosts the Nets.
A win Wednesday against Atlanta would secure the first tiebreaker for the Heat over over Washington (division record) if the teams were to finish the season with the same record.
While players said it would good to finish the season in front of both Washington and Milwaukee in the final conference standings, putting an end to these nagging injuries is more important in the long run.
“We want to make noise in the playoffs,” said Johnson, who is missing his first game since he was suspended Jan. 10 at Indiana. “We’re definitely not satisfied with where we’re at. We’re still playing to win. [But] we got enough tonight.”
Johnson, 30, missed six games earlier this season with right ankle bursitis. He said the pain he’s experiencing now is with his left ankle.
“It’s just been swelling up a little bit,” Johnson said. “Just been playing through it – if you can, you must, that mentality. Just been playing through it and today it hurts. I got treatment on it and I’ll get ready for New York.”
Wade, 36, landed awkwardly on his left wrist late in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets and said he’s “glad it ain’t broke.” He also tweaked his right elbow earlier in the game. Last March with the Bulls, Wade fractured the same elbow.
Which one bothers him more?
“I can pick either one,” Wade said. “My elbow affected me a little bit on my shooting [last game]. Because it’s an area I fractured last year, I’m a little bit more sensitive. But I definitely would pick any one.
“Last night [was] just a game we needed to win,” Wade continued. “I think everybody [was] trying to just play through whatever [they were] feeling because we had a chance to get that clinched. Tonight, having a quick turnaround, it’s an opportunity to rest it.”
Dragic, meanwhile, says he’s been playing through tendinitis in his right knee for about the last three weeks. He said he tweaked his right ankle in Tuesday’s playoff clinching win over the Hawks. He said if Wednesday’s game was a playoff game or important toward the Heat clinching a playoff spot he “definitely” would have played.
“In the playoffs, every player, we want them to be healthy so we can compete at the highest level,” Dragic said.
▪ The Heat unveiled it’s 24th starting lineup of the season Wednesday with Luke Babbitt and Rodney McGruder replacing Johnson and Dragic alongside Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside.