Miami Heat

Road weary Miami Heat looking forward to better health, six-game homestand

Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson, left, and teammate guard Tyler Johnson talking in the fourth quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena on Tues., Oct. 18, 2016, in Miami.
Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson, left, and teammate guard Tyler Johnson talking in the fourth quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena on Tues., Oct. 18, 2016, in Miami. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Not only does the Miami Heat lead the league in games missed because of injury (77), but the team has also faced the third-toughest schedule in the league thus far.

Saturday night, the Heat wrapped up a three-week stretch of playing 10 of 13 on the road with a heartbreaking loss to Dwyane Wade and the Bulls in frigid Chicago.

So, it’s no wonder why Goran Dragic and his teammates are looking forward to what’s around the corner.

The Heat (7-17) open a six-game home stand Monday against the Washington Wizards (9-13) , one of four opponents on tap over the next 10 days which have a .500 record or worse.

The other part of the good news: forwards Luke Babbitt (strained right hip flexor) and James Johnson (strained right rotator cuff) were upgraded from out to questionable on Sunday, meaning Miami should have at least two of the four players who stayed home recuperating during this last road trip back soon.

“ It’s not easy when you’re losing games and you have only six, seven, eight people on the bench,” said Dragic, when asked after Saturday’s fifth consecutive loss how draining the last three weeks have been playing so many games away from home short-handed. “[Those other teams] are rotating players. They come in fresh and you’re exhausted.

“Hopefully we get those guys back and we have a couple days where we can go to practice and sleep in our bed at home and see kids, family, not to be in the cold weather anymore. I think that’s going to help, give us that confidence we can go further.”

Said guard Josh Richardson, who returned to action Saturday after missing six straight games with a sprained left ankle: “I think [the home stand] will be good for the guys who aren’t playing. They won’t feel left out -- because that’s how I felt when I was at home. I felt like I wanted to be more of a part of the team. I think it will be good for them just to be around us every day. We’ll just encourage them while we’re there.

“I think once we get our whole team back, once we get healthy, things might start turning around. We haven’t played one game this year with our whole roster, so it’s tough.”

Although the Heat is only five games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, this home stand could realistically be the team’s last opportunity to climb out of the bottom of the standings and back into serious playoff contention.

If it’s a bad homestand, the focus of the front office could shift toward preparing for what lies beyond this season and the draft lottery.

“We got to protect homecourt,” said center Hassan Whiteside, who is well aware the Heat’s 2-8 home record this season is a bit embarrassing. “We’re really building a toughness on the road. But these six games, I really think we can make a big improvement. So I’m excited for it.”

FIGHTING THROUGH

Whiteside, one of only three Heat players who hasn’t missed a game this season because of injury, has been dealing with soreness in his hip and knee of late.

In the third quarter of Friday’s blowout loss in Cleveland he was temporarily benched by coach Erik Spoelstra for not playing with enough energy.

Whiteside has been trying to move past it. Spoelstra said he was satisfied with his center’s effort and attitude Saturday in Chicago, adding “he brought a competitive energy that’s needed for our basketball team.”

▪ Richardson on Saturday didn’t wear the bulky protective brace he had been wearing on his left knee since returning from a sprained MCL five games into the regular season.

“I felt faster,” he said. “I didn’t have to drag that big old knee brace around all night. I definitely felt a little bit better.”

Monday: Wizards at Heat

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

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

Series: Heat lead 76-38

Scouting report: The Heat won in Washington 114-111 on Nov. 19 but faces a Wizards team that has won three of its past four games. John Wall and Bradley Beal scored 34 points each the last time they played against the Heat, which made 13 of its 27 three-point attempts in building a sizable second-half lead before holding on late to preserve the victory.

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