Miami Heat

Heat’s Dion Waiters out of boot, but still no word on when he’ll play

Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters is congratulated by forward James Johnson (16) after hitting a three pointer during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.
Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters is congratulated by forward James Johnson (16) after hitting a three pointer during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Dion Waiters is no longer using the walking boot he’s been in since he badly sprained his left ankle back on March 17, but coach Erik Spoelstra said he’s still not sure when his starting shooting guard will be able to begin practicing.

“I’m not asking,” Spoelstra replied when asked before Sunday’s game if it is realistic to believe Waiters, Miami’s third-leading scorer (15.8 points per game) and second on the team in assists (4.3), could be back before the end of the regular season on April 12.

“It’s day-to-day. When we get the next good news where we feel like everybody should know, we'll let you guys know. But I haven’t seen him moving around yet to practice yet. I’m not asking him. I’m just checking on him and making sure that he's here, which he is. He’s here all the time.”

Waiters has started conditioning work, Spoelstra said, and “is progressing.” After Sunday’s game against the Nuggets, the Heat will have two days off before it begins a three-game road trip Wednesday night in Charlotte. Miami then returns home to close out the regular season against Cleveland and Washington.

“He’s been great,” Spoelstra said of Waiters’ attitude. “He's a little bit ornery when he’s not playing. That is what we like about Dion.”

Said teammate Wayne Ellington of Waiters: “No question he’s dying to be out there with us. All our guys are competitors and we want to win man. We know he helps us win.”

SIOUX FALLS MISSES PLAYOFFS

A year after winning their first D-League championship, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Miami’s D-League affiliate, wrapped up its season Saturday with the best record ever of any D-League team not to qualify for the postseason at 29-21.

Center Keith Benson posted his league-leading 32nd double-double (28 points, 10 rebounds) in a 136-120 victory over the Austin Spurs. The team lost two of its best players to NBA call-ups during the middle of the season with Briante Weber going to Golden State and then Charlotte and the Heat calling up Okaro White.

Spoelstra said he reached out to coach Nevada Smith and assistant coach Anthony Carter after Saturday’s win.

“It was still was a very productive, successful season,” Spoelstra said. “It was the first time really that our team took a hit from call-ups – and permanent call-ups. In the past, they would have call-ups and then guys would go back. We didn’t send guys there either, which we had in the past. So, I think guys were able to develop. We were still able to instill our culture. I think next year with another year with this staff it will get better and more fine-tuned. But I think overall it was a success.”

NO BETS YET

There’s no debate about which team Spoelstra will be rooting for in Monday night’s men’s college national championship game between Gonzaga and North Carolina.

A former guard at Portland State, a member of the West Coast Conference along with Gonzaga, Spoelstra predicted the Bulldogs to win the tournament at the start.

“I figured they’re probably due,” Spoelstra said. “How many times have they had great [seasons]? That’s a remarkable program they’ve built that started all the way back when I was playing against them. [Coach] Mark Few was an assistant, probably the Spokane version of me there. He started out as a basketball operations assistant and worked his way all the way up.”

Ellington, meanwhile, will be rooting for his alma mater, North Carolina.

“Shoot-around was all business this morning,” Ellington said when asked if he and Spoelstra had participated in a little trash-talking before Monday’s title game. “After we get this 'W' [Sunday night] we’ll talk about it.”

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