Miami Heat

He’s not in the Heat’s rotation. But Spoelstra won’t hesitate to play him in the playoffs

Miami Heat forward Rodney McGruder looks for a teammate to pass the ball during the second quarter as the Miami Heat hosts the Detroit Pistons at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, March 3, 2018.
Miami Heat forward Rodney McGruder looks for a teammate to pass the ball during the second quarter as the Miami Heat hosts the Detroit Pistons at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, March 3, 2018. mocner@miamiherald.com

Rodney McGruder earned the nickname “The Scavenger” from teammate James Johnson last season in part because of his relentless approach on defense and his dogged pursuit of loose balls, a statistic in which he led all rookies last season.

This season, after going down late in the preseason with a stress fracture in his left tibia and missing the first 60 games of the regular season, McGruder, 26, has been scavenging for minutes.

On Wednesday, with the Heat giving Goran Dragic, James Johnson and Dwyane Wade the night off to heal from injuries in preparation for the playoffs, those minutes became available, and the undrafted, former starter reminded us why he made 65 starts last season. In 21 minutes, he scored a season-high 14 points on five of six shooting and was among the lead contributors in a 29-point blowout of the Hawks.

McGruder had sat and watched from the bench in the Heat’s two previous games. Since his return on Feb. 27, he’s played in only 15 of a possible 19 games and played fewer than 15 minutes in six games he did play in.

How tough of an adjustment has it been to go from a starter to not being a part of the rotation?

“It’s not an adjustment because the group of guys we have do a great job of keeping everybody involved and keeping them in high spirits that you don’t really think about that,” McGruder said Wednesday. “You just want to contribute and be a great teammate and when you get the opportunity you want to flourish, so you have to remain positive and stay the course.”

McGruder had high hopes coming into the season. He spent all summer working to improve his three-point shot and began the preseason in the Heat’s starting lineup for the first five games. Then his knee let him down.

His teammates, who fell in love with McGruder’s heart and hustle last season, remain in his corner.

Heat forward Rodney McGruder spoke to the media on his imminent return to action after a season-long injury after today's practice at the American Airlines Arena.

“Obviously I didn’t play with him [last season], but when Rod first started in the NBA he was in Boston in training camp with me,” Kelly Olynyk said. “So, you know, I’ve known Rod for a while. But just to see how much work he puts in, it’s tough to have that injury and comeback. He’s worked so hard. I see him in the gym every single day work his ass off.

“To come in here and really get an opportunity and make the most of it [Wednesday is good]. Stuff didn’t go well for him at the start of the game, but he just kind of kept pushing, kept chugging, kept plugging away and good things happen to those kind of people. I was glad for him, happy for him. He’s going to be a big part of this team especially during this playoff run.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra maintains that even though McGruder might not be a part of the Heat’s regular rotation he will not hesitate to throw him in there if needed when the playoffs start.

“He started 65 times last year for a team that went 30-11 the second half of the season and then because of injury this year he had to be a support player and I wanted the guys to understand and have empathy for that,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s put himself in a positon now that he’s also ready to contribute. And while we might have a rotation that’s set where he might not play every single night, I will not hesitate to play him in any circumstance, starting or bench, or if he hasn’t played in the first half, I’ll throw him in a playoff game in the second half. But more importantly, I have that kind of faith in him. That’s a beautiful thing to see.”

▪ The Heat held the Hawks to 36.7 percent shooting Wednesday night, the 16th time this season it has held an opponent under 40 percent shooting in a game. That’s tied for the most in the league with the Philadelphia 76ers this season.

Since the Heat entered the league in 1988-89, only the San Antonio Spurs have had more games (519) than Miami (481) in which they’ve held an opponent under 40 percent shooting according to basketball-reference.com. Since Pat Riley’s arrival prior to the 1995-96 season, the Heat leads the league in games holding opponents under 40 percent with 441 (the Spurs are second with 437).

In Erik Spoelstra’s 10 seasons as coach, the Heat ranks second in the league with 169 games of holding opponents under 40 percent shooting. Only Indiana (171) has been better over the last decade.

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