Turns out the Raptors weren’t the only team missing a key starter Tuesday night.
The Heat’s Tyler Johnson, who had made 10 consecutive starts in the absence of Goran Dragic and then Dion Waiters, was scratched from Miami’s starting lineup with a left shoulder strain about two hours before tip-off.
Johnson, who had averaged 15.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals over those 10 games, said he felt “a weird muscle spasm” at the end of Tuesday morning’s shotaround session at Air Canada Centre.
“They don’t think it’s anything too, too serious,” Johnson said. “I’ll just be out today and then we’ll reevaluate it [Wednesday in Indiana].
“I mean I was doing a ballhandling drill and I don’t know,” he said. “It just kind of got real and I felt kind of a sharp pain, an irritation."
Johnson had rotator cuff surgery on the same shoulder in February 2016 and missed the final 35 games of the regular season before returning in the playoffs in May. But he doesn’t think this latest injury is necessarily related.
“We’re not 100 percent, but it doesn’t feel like how it did in the past,” Johnson said. “In the past it was a totally different [pain]... it wasn’t a soreness, it was an actual pain that was going through my shoulder. So I don’t feel that. It doesn’t feel anything close to what that was like.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said Derrick Walton Jr., who had been sent back down to G-League affiliate Sioux Falls over the weekend, was being called up to make up for Johnson’s loss. Derrick Jones Jr., meanwhile, signed to a two-way contract by the Heat on Dec. 31, made his first start for Miami in Johnson’s place.
The Raptors, who own the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, played Tuesday’s game without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who was sidelined by a bruised tailbone and back spasms.
HEAT PUSHING ELLINGTON
Wayne Ellington hasn’t participated in a three-point contest since he was a high school senior in 2006, the year he edged former Heat first round pick Daequan Cook to win the trophy at the McDonald’s High School All-American Game.
“That was so long ago, I’ve got to look back,” Ellington said when asked who else participated in the contest. “There were some NBA guys in there, for sure.”
While Cook went on to win the 2009 NBA three-point contest (the third of four Heat players to win the crown), Ellington, now playing for his seventh NBA team in his 10th season, has never had a chance to participate in the league’s premier All-Star shooting competition. If ever there were a time, it’s now.
Entering Tuesday’s game against the Raptors, Ellington has connected on a team-high 113 threes, 14 more than any other bench player in the league, and the sixth-most overall. He’s done it while playing significantly fewer minutes (943 minutes) than four of the five guys in front of him on the list (only Stephen Curry has 116 threes in 911 minutes has played less).
Ellington’s 41.7 percent shooting percentage from downtown this season, the second-highest percentage from long range during his nine-year career, is the third-best percentage in the league by any player with at least 100 made three-pointers.
So, while the Heat does not have a player listed among the top 10 vote-getters in the backcourt or the frontcourt to represent the Eastern Conference at next month’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles, Miami’s players and coaching staff feel like they have someone very deserving of an invite to the three-point contest.
“He should [go],” Dragic said of Ellington. “He’s shooting the ball tremendously. He’s one of the best shooters in this league, and he’s proven he should be [there]. We all support him and try to make a case [for him]. We’ll watch him on TV when he wins the trophy.”
Said Spoelstra: “I don’t know what the paremeters are, how they decide that specifically. But if we had players and staff vote on that I think Wayne Ellington would be out there on All-Star weekend and not be off. I’d love to see it. He’s got my vote. Does that count?”