When Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle last month in Minnesota, he missed three games for the Heat.
It’s clear this latest ankle injury feels a lot worse, and the 25-year-old shooting guard said his goal now is simply to get back before the Heat wraps up the regular season.
“I haven’t felt pain like this in so long,” said Waiters, who spoke to reporters in the Heat locker room before Sunday’s game against the Trail Blazers while standing on crutches.
“The last time I had one of these was the last time I broke my ankle in high school. Even when I did [sprain my ankle] in Minnesota, it was a week and a couple days. I wasn’t 100 percent when I came back, but it wasn’t as severe as this one was.
“This one is a little worse than that one. But we’ve just got to continue moving in the right direction, take it day by day. I believe in my guys. I believe they’re going to hold the fort down for me. It sucks not being out there, especially the rhythm and everything we were in and I was in. But it’s a minor setback for a major comeback. I’ve got to just stay positive.”
The Heat’s third-leading scorer this season, Waiters said he initially thought he had broken his ankle when he landed awkwardly and had to be carried off the court by teammates late in the first half of Friday night’s win over the Minnestota Timberwolves. But X-rays taken Friday night were negative.
Still, Waiters said he hasn’t been able to put any weight on the ankle whatsoever and the swelling is bad enough that he thinks he’s going to request an MRI once he’s finally able to have one. He said he’s been working around the clock with Heat trainers to get the swelling down.
“If I don’t like what’s going on or it’s not improving, I’m going to get [an MRI],” said Waiters, who has a $3 million player option for next season he’s almost sure not to exercise because he could command much more money in the open market.
“Honestly, I thought it was way worse than it was. I thought it could have been a fracture or something. I thank the man above that it wasn’t that. But it was a bad sprain.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra on Sunday opted to start Josh Richardson in Waiters’ place Sunday.
Miami is certainly a better team with Waiters in the lineup. Miami’s offensive rating with Waiters on the court this season is 106.5 and 103.9 when he’s off it. Defensively, the Heat is better too (103.8 rating) when Waiters is on the court and not off it (104.2)
He’s a big reason why the team has turned its season around following an 11-30 start. When he missed 20 games earlier this season with a groin injury, the Heat went 5-15. When Waiters, Goran Dragic, Rodney McGruder, Luke Babbitt and Hassan Whiteside have started together, the Heat is 20-5 this season.
“We’ve just got to keep working on it and, hopefully, this thing keeps improving every day,” Waiters said. “I’m young. I’m 25. So my bone should heal kind of fast. I’ll just keep having faith and, hopefully, I wake up and this thing is gone.”
In the event Waiters is out for an extended period of time, the Heat could apply for a hardship exception to add a 16th player to the roster after Thursday’s game against the Toronto Raptors.
▪ Spoelstra said it has been good having Justise Winslow back on the bench during the Heat’s homestand. The second-year forward, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in early January, had not been on the bench until Wednesday’s win over the Pelicans but had been at practices and around his teammates while rehabbing.
“I think it’s already gotten better the last couple weeks just because he was able to be out there with the guys,” Spoelstra said of Winslow’s camaraderie with his teammates. “He’s really not doing anything other than his rehab work and a little bit of free-throw work and some light-handed shooting. But just being around the guys is good. He’s been able to get cleared to sit out there game to game. I think that just helps him stay engaged. It’s all good.”