Barry Jackson

Waiters injury leaves Heat with seven players out but Miami now two above .500

Heat guard Dion Waiters drives to the basket against Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews on Friday before leaving with a sprained left ankle.
Heat guard Dion Waiters drives to the basket against Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews on Friday before leaving with a sprained left ankle.

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 113-101 home victory Friday against Dallas that pushed Miami games two above .500 at 17-15:

• Another injury was the last thing Miami needed, with Miami already without six players. And the Heat lost a seventh, Dion Waiters, who left with a sprained left ankle in the first quarter, leaving the Heat with just nine available players.

X-rays were negative, but sprained ankles have sidelined Waiters for multiple games twice before in his Heat tenure. And the Heat quickly determined on Friday that he would not return to the game.

He missed three games in a row last February with a sprain to the same ankle, then missed Miami’s final 13 games last season when he again sprained the same ankle.

Waiters opted not to have the ankle surgically repaired this past summer because he was a free agent.

With Waiters out, Miami was missing all five players who could have ended up starting this season – Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Waiters and Goran Dragic.

Erik Spoelstra said before the game that four of those players would likely not play Saturday against New Orleans, and it would be very surprising if Waiters is recovered enough in time to play.

"This is the world we live in; it’s unfortunate," Spoelstra said of the rash of injuries, which also include Justise Winslow and Okaro White. "I have great empathy for our players. Dion’s right now is just an ankle sprain. We will see how he responds from that."

Dragic, who has a strained ligament in his elbow, said he hopes to return Tuesday against Orlando but might have elbow pain for a month.

Spoelstra said he hopes his team begins to get healthy in the next seven to 10 days.

• Even before this month, Josh Richardson was playing like an All-NBA defender, in Spoelstra’s view, and for much of the season has led all NBA starting small forwards in field goal percentage defense against the player he’s guarding.

But Richardson’s offensive evolution in recent weeks has been remarkable, even for a player who led the NBA in three-point shooting in the second half of his rookie year.

He was exceptional again Friday, scoring 24 points on 11 of 14 shooting and added four rebounds, five assists, a steal and two blocks.

Richardson is averaging 18 points per game in December on 55.1 percent shooting (75 for 136) – best among all NBA starting small forwards.

What’s more, he’s shooting a ridiculous 27 for 50 on threes this month.

"You are seeing a player that is gaining confidence every single game," Spoelstra said. "He is becoming somebody new and more dangerous. His confidence is growing exponentially right now and I just want to keep on fueling that.

"His menu is growing. He’s a point forward for us and he can get us organized as a point guard. He can play off the ball and is still taking the challenge one through five. It’s too bad nobody notices around the league, but he is playing at an all-NBA defensive level for sure."

Richardson has shown a diversity to his offensive game – hitting pullup midrange jumpers, threes, and nifty spin moves under the basket.

"It’s important to be able to score at all three levels," he said. "I don’t want guys to think only I will only drive or guys to think I will only shoot threes."

• Wayne Ellington’s big night (28 points, career-high 8 three-pointers in 12 attempts, including four threes in the fourth quarter) reinforced how important it was that Miami engineered a trade with Dallas to clear out Josh McRoberts’ contract and give Miami enough cap space to pick up the $6.3 million option year on Ellington’s contract and have the space to sign Kelly Olynyk.

McRoberts, who was injured for much of his three seasons in Miami, has a toe injury and remains out indefinitely, according to Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who noted that McRoberts played five-on-five against Dallas’ interns on Thursday.

Carlisle said the Mavericks knew McRoberts wouldn’t be healthy to start the season but that it was "a good deal for both teams."

Why? Because Miami agreed to pay $5.1 million of McRoberts’ $6.1 million salary on an expiring contract, took the contract of A.J. Hammons (which has another guaranteed season after this one at the league minimum) and gave Dallas a future second-round pick.

"I’ve learned never to question Andy Elisburg," Spoelstra said of the Heat’s general manager who worked magic with the cap to fit in Ellington. "He can make a lot of things happen out of nowhere. When we executed his contract, he was the first guy I texted. I enjoy watching Wayne."

Spoelstra said Ellington has "one of the best shooting workout routines I’ve been around in 23 years. Those are the championship habits we have seen over the years. He behaves like a champion before he’s a champion. I love to see a game like this, we really needed him. Every one of his threes were difficult threes, on the run, full speed, with defenders draped all over him, but he practices that way. It’s beauty in motion."

Richardson said when Ellington "is hitting like that, it opens the court up for us."

With Waiters out, "I took it upon myself to elevate my game," Ellington said.

• The moment wasn’t too big for undrafted rookie guard Derrick Walton Jr. As part of his two-way contract, Walton can spend only 45 days in the NBA this season.

With Waiters out, he played nearly 24 minutes Friday, scoring seven points (two for three shooting), with five assists and no turnovers.

"We like guys who have been coached well and it’s clear he has been coach well not only in college but in high school," Spoelstra said. "He’s a heady player, gutsy player. He’s a gamer. He doesn’t get sick at sea in these kinds of moments. He gets you organized and makes the right plays.

"He stepped up more competitively defensively in the second half against their quick guards and the penetration. He was much more impactful than he was in the first half. You want your teammates and coaching staff to notice you when you get that opportunity and we did."

Walton was Big 10 tournament MVP at Michigan last season.

"Derrick Walton, a guy who doesn’t know if he will be here, gets huge stops and gets us organized," Richardson said.

• Bam Adebayo continues his evolution. Not only did he produce 14 points and eight rebounds, but his five assists were two more than Whiteside’s career high.

"Bam has been getting better every day," Ellington said. "He is a pro, puts the work in. It is rare. You don’t see that out of rookies. The sky is the limit for him."

On Saturday against New Orleans, Adebayo will be defending an elite player – either Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins.

"Big time challenge for him," Ellington said. "I’m sure he is excited."

• One other quick note: The Heat’s 63.9 percent shooting Friday (46 for 72) was second-best in franchise history. The highest: 67.5 percent against Chicago in March 2016.

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