Miami Heat

Heat's Waiters out Sunday, but potential replacement Ellington is thriving

Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington hits a three pointer against New Orleans Pelicans guard E'Twaun Moore (55) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.
Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington hits a three pointer against New Orleans Pelicans guard E'Twaun Moore (55) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

The Heat will be without guard Dion Waiters for Sunday’s game against Portland and potentially longer, with the timetable remaining undetermined for his return from an ankle injury.

Waiters was on crutches after twisting his left ankle Friday against Minnesota, but the Heat said no MRI was necessary.

The Heat initially thought the severity was similar to his February ankle sprain, which sidelined him three games, but Erik Spoelstra said Saturday that it’s “too early to put a timeline on it. He was in the locker-room doing treatment pretty much all night and early this morning. We got on it right away. He’s young. He heals fast. He healed very fast from the last one and he rolled that one all the way over. There’s no way to really tell until we get through this process. We’ll see how he feels after this weekend.”

Though Waiters has been instrumental through this stretch of 23 wins in 28 games, the good news is the Heat has good depth at shooting guard, with Wayne Ellington, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson.

In a season of pleasant surprises – from James Johnson to Rodney McGruder to Waiters – Ellington should not be overlooked.

He’s averaging a career-high 11.3 points, has made a career-high 123 threes and is shooting 38 percent on threes, tied for 59th in the league.

“His shooting routine and program is Ray Allen-ish,” Spoelstra said. “And all of that is behind the scenes as the first one in the building, last one to leave. Strokes like that don’t happen by accident and you don’t have shooting games like that every single game but you work on it every single day no matter what happens.”

And besides a smooth stroke, he shares something else with the retired Allen: a superstitious side and an unrelenting commitment to routine.

At practice, Ellington must make between 300 and 500 jumpers. How many does he take? He doesn’t know the exact amount, but “I’m not doing too much missing.”

But Ellington’s exhaustive routine involves far more than simply standing and shooting. Many of the hoisted jumpers are on the run.

“I’ll do a lot of running into shots,” he said. “It’s a lot of shots I get in the game. I try to replicate those shots so when I get in the game, it's natural.”

There’s a measure of guile involved in this, with Ellington admitting he varies his pace during games to try to deceive defenders.

“Guys tend to relax in this league,” he said. “That's kind of what I look for. When I'm coming off a screen and I know a play is coming my way, I kind of lure you to sleep. I jog a little bit and take off, or the other way around. Sometimes I run really fast and start going slow like the play is not for me, and I get open looks. So just little tricks of the trade I've learned have helped me out a lot."

Before games, he must take at least 150 jumpers to feel comfortable. “I do the exact same thing whether I’m making shots or not,” he said.There are several similarities between the Allen/Ellington routines.

Both must take a pregame nap, with Ellington’s always starting at 2 p.m. “As long as I'm in the bed the same time, it doesn't matter how long I sleep,” he said.

Like Allen, Ellington must eat the same meal before every game. For Allen, it was chicken and white rice.

For Ellington, it’s always “salmon with some brussel sprouts and pasta.”

And guess where Ellington buys it? From Grown, the organic food restaurant that Allen and his wife opened last year.

“It's near my house,” Ellington said.

The time of the pre-game shooting routine is the biggest difference between the two. Allen arrived at the arena at 3:45 p.m., before most teammates, and began shooting.

Ellington likes to wait until 60 minutes before game time “because I like to take my warmup right into the game.”

Ellington said he has never discussed his routine with Allen – the all-time leader in made threes - but Spoelsta’s comparison “is a great compliment,” Ellington said. “That means I'm headed in the right direction.”

Ellington has a theory for why he’s enjoying the best season of his career.

“I feel like this I've been even more locked in,” he said. “I've been more committed to my craft. My body feels great. I'm in the best shape I've been in since I've been a professional….

“It took time to figure out where I can get those shots at, where I can get those shots within our offense, how I can help the team in that area. Finally figuring it out and getting more and more comfortable in that role. That's why I continue to get better and better at it.”

Even with a desire to maximize cap space this summer, guaranteeing Ellington’s $6.3 million salary for next season by the July 7 deadline will be tempting for the Heat.

"It's a great luxury for us on several different levels," Spoelstra said of what Ellington offers. "One, he's ignitable, so he can go on a run, where it's two, three, four in a row. That can change the momentum of a game just like that.

"Secondly, he's always in somebody's game plan now, so that does create space unto itself. But, also, thirdly, it adds to our menu. So we're not just pick-and-roll dominant.”

• The Heat held its annual family festival outside AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, with a $554,245 check presented to the team’s charitable fund. Players and coaches mingled with fans, though Waiters was unable to attend because of the injury.

"We're 20 years later, made over $10 million over the last 20 years that we could give back to the most needy families in South Florida," said Chris Riley, wife of Heat president Pat Riley.

Riley, who always attends these events, couldn’t on Saturday because he was scouting the NCAA Tournament.

“He’s doing what he does – looking for talent to make us better,” Chris Riley said.

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