When Hassan Whiteside woke up Monday morning something didn’t feel quite right with his left knee. It was sore and he was concerned.
The Heat, which has been hit by a rash of injuries to start the season, is thankful the soreness didn’t turn out to be more. An MRI cleared him and the league’s leading rebounder and No. 2 shot blocker made his 17th start Monday night against the Boston Celtics, ensuring Miami of having at least one player on the roster who has started every game this season.
Counting Monday’s game, the Heat has had nine players miss a combined 62 games because of injuries, among the most in the league.
Although starting point guard Goran Dragic (he missed back-to-back games with elbow stiffness), center Willie Reed (he missed four games with a hyperextended knee) and guard Wayne Ellington, who missed the first 16 games of the season, all returned to action against the Celtics, Miami still had three key players out against Boston.
Small forward Justise Winslow (sore left wrist) missed his eighth consecutive game, and starting shooting guard Dion Waiters (hip flexor) and Tyler Johnson (oral surgery), the Heat’s leading scorer off the bench, missed their first games of the season.
Waiters scored a season-high 28 points in Saturday’s loss to the Grizzlies, but was headed in the wrong direction in terms of his health, Spoelstra said.
“It just wasn’t getting better at all and the back-to-back [games on Friday and Saturday] definitely didn’t make it any better,” Spoelstra said. “And it’s not going to get better [by continuing to play]. You really risk it getting worse. Those things are tricky. Anywhere in the hip flexor or groin area, that gets worse and it can put you out an extended period of time.”
Johnson, who is among the league’s leading scorers off the bench with 12.6 points per game, is recovering from oral surgery after losing a tooth in Wednesday’s blowout loss at Detroit.
Johnson isn’t expected to be out very long, but Spoelstra said the Heat is considering asking him and other players to wear mouth guards regularly. He had a tooth knocked out in summer league a couple years ago. And Dragic has also had several teeth knocked out over the years.
“Pretty soon players are going to look like football players out there,” Spoelstra said half-joking. “The way the game is played now with pick and rolls, you’re getting hit all the time. We’re going to try to require everything that we possibly can. Ultimately it will be the player’s choice.”
Winslow’s timetable for a return, meanwhile, remains undefined. He has yet to practice and the Heat isn’t sure when he will be back.
“We didn’t necessarily know [he would be out this long], but it’s in a tough area,” Spoelstra said when asked if the length of time Winslow has missed has surprised team officials. “And playing through it was aggravating it. It definitely was not getting better. So he’s been able to take care of that with rest. It’s still not where he wants it to be. But some areas take a little bit longer. The wrist, there are a lot of moving parts to that.”
Ellington, a career 37.6 percent three-point shooter, was happy to be back out on the floor. He said it was the longest stretch of his career he’s been out because of injury.
“It’s not completely out,” Ellington said of the thigh bruise he said doctors told him was one of the worst they had ever seen. “But I don’t feel it as I run and I cut. It doesn’t affect my play at all.”
Ellington, who played well in the preseason, said he didn’t think it would take him long to fit back into the Heat’s rotation.
“I went through the whole preseason so I understand our plays,” he said. “I know what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. Obviously it will take a little bit for me to build that chemistry with our guys, but at the same time I think the way I play it won’t take that long at all.”