If injuries sit atop the list of things that have held the Heat back, free throw shooting isn’t far behind.
The worst free-throw shooting team in the league this season at 66.7 percent entering Sunday’s game against the Celtics, the Heat has lost seven games by six points or less this season — and missed at least a third of its free throws in six of those games. The league average at the line is 76.5 percent.
Hassan Whiteside, who is the league’s fifth-worst free-throw shooter at 52.5 percent (out of 106 qualifiers), is at least working on it. He came in on the Heat’s only day off this past week — Saturday — and took 500 extra free throws. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Whiteside was also at the arena early Sunday to practice free throws.
“We’re just working with a routine to stay with it,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside, who shot 75 percent from the line after the All-Star break last season but has inexplicably slipped at the charity stripe this season. “He puts in the time. You have to be comfortable enough when you invariably have misses that you stay with the routine and just focus on the process. One shot does not lead to another shot. He understands that and he’s working on it. That’s all I can ask for.”
Whiteside’s fourth-quarter minutes have dwindled of late, but Spoelstra said it has nothing to do with him trying to avoid a Hack-A-Hassan situation.
“I don’t have a stat on it, but I think when people do foul him purposely I think he shoots better in those situations,” Spoelstra said. “It was a lot of the different lineup stuff [we are doing why his fourth quarter minutes are down].”
Dion Waiters was inactive for the 12th consecutive game Sunday, but Miami’s third-leading scorer (at 14.2 points per game) is hoping that streak will come to an end soon.
Waiters, who hasn’t played since he scored a season high 28 points in a loss to Memphis on Nov. 26 because of a small groin tear, rejoined his teammates on the practice court earlier this week. Although he still has not gone through full contact drills, Waiters said he is running as hard as he can and that’s “as close to game speed as possible.”
Waiters — who said he tweaked the groin when he got fouled going up for a dunk against Milwaukee back on Nov. 17 — said he still feels some discomfort but is resigned to dealing with the pain for the rest of the season. He’s played through groin tightness in the past, managed it, and is hoping the Heat will let him do the same moving forward.
“I'm going through my regular routine and stuff like that,” Waiters said. “It’s up to [the Heat], whenever they think I’ll be ready. I feel as though I probably just need a good week of practice or just going through contact or something and just testing it. But it’s up to them.”
▪ The Heat got guard Tyler Johnson back on Sunday after he missed Friday’s game with the flu, but was minus Wayne Ellington, who had started eight consecutive games. Ellington, who left Friday’s game in the third quarter with what Spoelstra dubbed “a slight strain” of his right hamstring, isn’t expected to be out long.
“He came in for treatment,” Spoelstra said. “He was able to go through our walkthrough up there. We’ll treat him day-to-day.”
Ellington, who missed the first 16 games of the season with a badly bruised right thigh, was replaced by Josh Richardson in the starting lineup.