Miami Heat

Ailing Heat ‘will have enough healthy bodies’ for Knicks Spoelstra promises

James Johnson, one of only four healthy players available for the Heat’s first 20 games of the season, will miss his first game of the season Tuesday against the Knicks with a right rotator cuff strain.
James Johnson, one of only four healthy players available for the Heat’s first 20 games of the season, will miss his first game of the season Tuesday against the Knicks with a right rotator cuff strain. AP

Erik Spoelstra doesn’t see the rash of injuries the Heat has been dealing with through the first six weeks of the season as anything extraordinary. At least that’s the face he’s putting on publicly and the message he’s trying to sell his short-handed team on every night.

“That's the NBA,” the Heat’s coach said moments after rattling off updates on the five players who are listed on the team’s injury report as either out or questionable for Tuesday night’s game against the New York Knicks (11-9) at AmericanAirlines Arena. “We'll have enough healthy bodies.”

James Johnson, who has become one of the team’s most valuable weapons off the bench, became the newest face on the Heat’s injury report Monday. He’s been ruled out for Tuesday’s game along with Justise Winslow, who will miss his 12th straight game with a sore left wrist, and Dion Waiters, who will miss his fifth straight game with a pectineus tear.

Johnson has a strained right rotator cuff. He also talks about being ejected in Saturday's loss in Portland. Dec. 5, 2016.

Johnson strained his right rotator cuff swiping at a loose ball in the second quarter against Utah last Thursday and played through the pain to help the Heat finish its recent 2-1 road trip. It’s an injury Johnson has dealt with before, but one he doesn’t think will keep him out very long. The Heat are listing his injury as day-to-day.

Still, he now becomes the 12th Heat player this season to miss a game because of injury. The only players who haven’t are center Hassan Whiteside, captain Udonis Haslem and rookie Rodney McGruder. Including Chris Bosh, who is expected not to play at all this season, the Heat has had 11 players combine to miss 78 games through the first 20 games of the season.

“It’s pretty unbelievable how many injuries we’ve had so far,” said forward Luke Babbitt, who after missing Saturday’s game in Portland with a strained hip flexor is listed along with guard Josh Richardson (sprained ankle) as questionable for Tuesday’s game. “At some point we are going to get healthy, get everyone, and we just have to kind of weather this storm right now.”

Richardson said he participated in practice Monday as a member of the scout team. He’s still feeling some discomfort in his ankle even after the Heat sent him home from Denver last week to receive treatment.

Richardson participated on the Heat's scout team Monday and is being listed as questionable for Tuesday's game vs. the Knicks. Dec. 5, 2016.

“I don’t want to come back too soon – I want to be smart about it,” Richarsdon said. “I definitely want to be out there with my brothers.”

The more troubling concern for the Heat is Winslow’s wrist. He hasn’t played since Nov. 14 at San Antonio and specifically stayed home from the last road trip to begin basketball activities and to try to be ready for when the team returned home to face the Knicks.

“It's all based on work and how you feel the next day,” Spoelstra said of Winslow’s wrist injury. “So, he’s getting great work in right now. But this isn't something we want to fast-track on a timeline. It’s when his body and his wrist feel right. He's making great progress. We want to make sure we keep that going in that direction.”

REASON ELLINGTON STARRING

Credit Ellington’s improved conditioning this summer as a big reason why he’s played so well since coming back from a badly bruised that caused him to miss the first 16 games of the season.

Ellington, 29, said he dropped seven percent in body fat and 15 pounds since signing with the Heat and is now down to seven percent body fat total. He says it’s why he was able to play 39 minutes in Saturday’s loss in Portland and why he’s shooting 51.1 percent and averaging 15 points and 1.3 steals per game in the four games he’s played in.

“He’s gotten into I think the best shape of his career,” Spoelstra said. “He's lost as much body fat as anybody on our roster since July 20th. He’s much quicker, much faster, much more energy. He played [39] minutes Saturday night and he could run off screens all night long. And he’s not getting tired.”

Spoelstra has said Ellington’s ability to effectively score off catch-and-shoots has had a ripple effect in opening up the floor for Whiteside and point guard Goran Dragic and thus leading to more scoring for the Heat. Miami’s offense is averaging nearly 10 more points per game and shooting more than six percent better over its last five games than it did over its first 15 games.

Ellington is averaging 7.3 points per game off catch-and-shoot plays. Only 11 other players in the NBA are averaging that.

Tuesday: Knicks (11-9) at Heat (7-13)

When/where: 7:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)

Series: Knicks lead 60-52

Scouting report: Miami took three of four from New York last season, but faces a vastly different Knicks squad with second-year standout Kristaps Porzingis further developed and former league MVP Derrick Rose playing a nice compliment to leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. The Heat, 2-7 at home, will at least get two days off before playing the Knicks. Miami then hits the road Wednesday for Atlanta, the first of three games in four nights with stops in Cleveland and Chicago.

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