With Dion Waiters preparing for a likely season-ending ankle surgery, the Miam Heat is expecting to get one of its other injured players back Sunday.
Justise Winslow went through a full practice Saturday and expects to be ready to play when the Heat take on the Milwaukee Bucks.
Winslow has not played since Dec. 13 when the Heat lost to Portland at home and its record at the time dropped to 13-14.
He missed the Heat’s next 14 games with a strained left knee.
During that span, the Heat (24-17) has gone Miami is 11-3 and enters Sunday’s game on a six-game winning streak that has catapulted it to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
"It’s going to feel good," Winslow said. "I’ve been out for awhile rehabbing, trying to get stronger. Even today being out in practice it felt good, just being out there competing. I’m excited to get out there tomorrow."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he plans to ease Winslow, who was averaging 6.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 42.6 percent in 27 games before he got hurt, back into the lineup.
But what exactly will Winslow’s role be with the Heat trying to build upon the key elements that have sparked its improved play in recent weeks?
"We’ll have to find out where those opportunities and minutes will be," Spoelstra said. "He’ll get into the game and we’ll figure out how many minutes will be from there. It will be more about continuity."
Winslow averaged 10.9 points and shot only 35.6 percent including an even 20 percent on threes last season while dealing with shoulder and wrist injuries. He started 15 games earlier this season playing some at the power forward position.
But with Bam Adebayo continuing to improve quickly in his rookie season and playing well alongside other frontcourt players like Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson, those minutes could be limited.
Winslow’s versatility, however, may allow him to slide back into the rotation and find minutes as a wing.
"We’ve done a great job as a unit, when someone goes down filling in and making the most of the opportunities," Winslow said. "For me it’s not going to be crazy minutes at first, just going out there playing with a lot of energy, trying to make plays.
"The coaching staff will do what’s best for the team whether its minutes as the four sparingly or on the wing or playing some point forward," Winslow said. "The coaching staff is going to figure that out for me. I’m versatile enough and smart enough that wherever they fill me in to be effective and efficient."
LIFE WITHOUT WAITERS
Spoelstra said Saturday that Waiters had not yet had surgery for his left ankle as the team announced he would a day earlier, and did not offer a timetable for his return.
Waiters said before the season if he had chosen to undergo the surgery in the offseason it would have kept him out of action between eight and 10 months.
Waiters, who missed the final 13 games of last season with a sprain to the same ankle, re-signed with the Heat on a four-year, $52 million deal this summer after choosing not to have surgery.
“Obviously losing a guy like Dion and what he brings is never easy,” said Tyler Johnson, who has been starting since Waiters was sidelined. “But I think all year and last year it was by committee when somebody went down the next guy was working just as hard so when it was their time to keep this thing rolling.”
The Heat is discussing whether or not to apply for a $5.5 million disabled player’s exception should Waiters be lost for the season that, if granted, must be utilized by March 12 and can be used only to acquire a player on an expiring contract. The Heat must apply by Monday and would need to open a roster spot to use it.
“Right now we just have to really prepare with the guys that we have,” Spoelstra said. “We feel we have enough depth and the way guys are playing and gaining confidence that we can go with the group we have right now.”
▪ Johnson said the injury that kept him out of Tuesday’s game in Toronto was diagnosed as a muscle spasm in his neck and not a shoulder injury. Johnson, who came off the bench the next night in Indiana and scored 15 points in 31 minutes, went through full practice on Saturday.
“I’ve been getting a lot of therapy on it,” Johnson said. “It feels night and day better than when I initially did it. We initially thought it was my shoulder but as the day went on and the next day I woke up it was flaring up from my neck. I was happy to hear that it was that and not my actual shoulder.”
▪ Spoelstra said the Heat will also bring back two-way contract player Derrick Jones, Jr. as insurance and he’ll be back in time to play against the Bucks. Jones would also travel with the team to Chicago for Monday’s game against the Bulls.