The Miami Heat could have Hassan Whiteside back in the starting lineup when it hosts the equally banged-up and slumping Orlando Magic Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat’s starting center, who has missed 18 games this season with bone bruises in two different spots on his left knee, including five games after the season opening loss at Orlando when he had 26 points and 22 rebounds, hasn’t played since Nov. 28 at Cleveland.
“He went through shootaround and I haven’t had a chance to talk to him since shootaround, but everything looked great,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He had a great workout on the 24th. So he’s going to warm-up with the intent to play and we’ll just see how that goes tonight.”
Spoelstra said that if Whiteside does return to the lineup, he would likely start Kelly Olynyk alongside Whiteside at power forward. The two haven’t played together since the opener and were on the court together for only 10 minutes.
The Heat said Whiteside sustained his second bone bruise in the team’s win over Boston on Nov. 22. Whiteside played the next three games, but averaged just 12.7 points, 11 rebounds and 21.4 minutes over the stretch. Team officials initially said Whiteside would be out a week to two weeks at most, but his absence has lasted nearly a month.
“Every day is a good day when we get our players back, one of those players,” point guard Goran Dragic said. “Hassan has been out for a long time. But we’re happy to have him back. We feel like he’s going to bring a lot of different stuff for this team. We’re looking forward to it.”
Said Tyler Johnson: “It’s definitely good to see that guy back. I know how hard he’s been working to get himself back in shape. We’re excited.”
Miami is 9-9 this season when Whiteside has been out and 7-6 over his latest 13-game absence. In Whiteside’s absence, Bam Adebayo has made seven starts at center and Olynyk has made six.
Adebayo, 20, has averaged 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 25.3 minutes and shot 60 percent from the field during Whiteside’s latest absence. Olynyk has averaged 11.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 28.1 minutes and shot 48.6 percent from the field over that stretch.
Dragic said he feels like the Heat gained something valuable while Whiteside was out — the knowledge that Adebayo and Olynyk can provide quality minutes at center.
“If you look K.O. had to play a lot of the five when Hassan was out,” he said. “So we can move him back to his original position at the four, [James Johnson] and him. I think with Hassan and Bam, I think Bam showed us he has great qualities that he can play a lot of minutes. [It] showed the coaches what they can do. I feel like for the playoffs, I feel comfortable with all those guys.”
MORE HEALTH UPDATES
The Heat (17-16) has ruled out guard Dion Waiters (left ankle sprain) and forwards Justise Winslow (left knee strain) and James Johnson (right ankle bursitis) for Tuesday’s game.
Waiters was hurt early in last Friday’s win over the Mavericks. An MRI and x-ray on the ankle Saturday were negative.
Last season Waiters missed the final 13 games of the season with a badly sprained left ankle. Saturday he was not putting any weight on the ankle and was walking around on crutches.
“He’s going to be going through the process of getting the swelling down and feeling better,” Spoelstra said. “He’s not ready for courtwork right now.”
Johnson returned to action Saturday after missing three games, but aggravated his ankle after scoring 7 points in eight minutes, seven seconds of action. It looks like the Heat will be more cautious before clearing him for his next return.
“It’s the same thing. We’re just going to be a little bit more methodical with the protocol to get him back and really test it,” Spoelstra said of Johnson’s ankle. “We’ll just go from there. He feels a little bit better. He was able to do a little bit. We’re going to test it quite a bit before we clear him the next time.”
Winslow will miss his seventh consecutive game on Tuesday.
“He’s progressing. He’s getting better. He’s feeling better,” Spoelstra said of Winslow. “He’s still doing a ton of conditioning and rehab work, but he’s not quite ready for a full practice. We’ll see what happens in the next two days.”
Orlando (11-23) has lost eight consecutive games and has three rotation players listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game: Evan Fournier (sprained right ankle), Aaron Gordon (strained right calf), Jonathan Isaac (sore right ankle).
Guard Terrence Ross (sprained right MCL) and center Nikola Vucevic (broken left hand) are out.
Orlando has won four straight against Miami.
“It’s still about us,” Spoelstra said of his team’s preparation for Tuesday’s game. “We have enough things we have to take care of — defend more consistently. That got away from us a little bit. Against New Orleans, we wanted to play much better at home. Working Hassan back into the mix, we want to develop some consistency with that game. So, we have great respect for the Orlando Magic. They handled us in the opening game. I don’t know exactly who is going to play for them, but we have enough things we want to focus on and take care of in our own camp.”