Barry Jackson

Heat players bemoan losing another guard. Here are Miami’s options after Tyler Johnson’s ankle injury.

Heat guard Tyler Johnson lays on the floor after sustaining a sprained left ankle in Monday’s game against the Bulls at United Center. Johnson was carted off but X-rays were negative. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Heat guard Tyler Johnson lays on the floor after sustaining a sprained left ankle in Monday’s game against the Bulls at United Center. Johnson was carted off but X-rays were negative. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 119-111 loss in Chicago that snapped Miami’s seven-game winning streak:

• For three years, the Heat has been able to overcome the fact that it has ranked among the league leaders in games lost due to injury.

But the problem with the latest malady – a sprained left ankle sustained by Tyler Johnson on Monday – is that it further depletes the Heat at the position Miami can least afford it.

"It seems like all the twos are going down," Goran Dragic of the Heat’s shooting guards. "Rodney [McGruder], Dion [Waiters]. Hopefully, nothing serious with Tyler."

After his leg collided with Robin Lopez’s leg on a third-quarter drive, Johnson was on the ground in pain for a couple of minutes before being carted off. Erik Spoelstra said Johnson initially feared it was a knee injury before it was diagnosed as a sprained ankle, with X-rays showing no structural damage and the timetable for his return undetermined.

"It’s actually the back of his foot, his ankle," Spoelstra said. "Everything was fine with [the X-rays] so the first part of the news is he’s relieved. We were all thinking the worst but we’ll see if we can get an MRI done [Tuesday]. Right now he just has it wrapped in tape so that’s a good sign but we’ll know more."

No MRI was scheduled as of Monday evening and the Heat will determine on Tuesday if one is necessary. Johnson left on crutches and was not available for comment.

"I had never seen Tyler stay down like that," Dragic said. "When he stood up, it was a relief."

Said Hassan Whiteside: "The backcourt is already thin enough. We’re already down so many guards. It’s a team full of big men."

• Options to replace Johnson, at least in the interim, are fairly limited. Waiters, of course, is expected to miss the season with upcoming ankle surgery. McGruder’s return from a broken tibia is likely a few weeks away.

"Rodney will help us a lot," Dragic said.

Spoelstra likes to bring Wayne Ellington off the bench because he’s so ignitable in that role. Ellington scored 20 in Monday’s loss.

So without Waiters, Johnson and McGruder, that could leave Spoelstra choosing between Justise Winslow and Derrick Jones Jr. at starting shooting guard.

Winslow spent a lot of time at power forward this season before missing 14 games with a strained knee. He has played a lot of small forward in two games back but said he’s comfortable playing shooting guard.

"I'm very comfortable," he said. "For the most part, point guard and the wings are interchangeable. It’s pretty much the same. I'm comfortable pretty much everywhere. Right now, I'm more thinking about Tyler than how we're going to replace him. We got a couple days hopefully, nothing too serious and he can be back out there soon." 

• As far as external options to augment the roster on the wings, the Heat could have some moderately appealing choices if Miami is granted the $5.5 million disabled player exception that it applied for on Monday.

But adding a player with that exception would require releasing or trading one, with center A.J. Hammons the logical option to be waived.

Among shooting guards earning less than $5.5 million who could be available in trade: Dallas’ Devin Harris, Brooklyn’s Joe Harris, Memphis’ James Ennis and Orlando’s Arron Afflalo and Mario Hezonja.

Tyreke Evans, who has had a very good year for Memphis, is making just $2.9 million but it’s highly questionable if the Grizzlies would trade him.

One impendiment for Miami: The Heat cannot trade any first-round pick before 2023 and has no second-round pick until 2022.

• Hassan Whiteside continues to be a spectator in the fourth quarter.

That happened again Monday, with Spoelstra opting not to use Whiteside for a single minute in the fourth, partly because Miami made a run without him in the game and partly because the Bulls were playing sweet-shooting big men in Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez.

"I can’t be [mad] about it," Whiteside said. "It’s whatever coach Spo wants."

Whiteside, who finished with nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks in just under 20 minutes, said he has "no problem" going to the perimeter to defend big men with range.

"I feel comfortable but everytime I came in, they put Robin Lopez in," he said.

• Spoelstra was angry about the Heat’s defense, which had been a strength during this winning streak.

Spoelstra was initially irked about a 14-2 Bulls run at the end of the first half.

"That was really disgusting basketball," he said. "We were up five and then all of a sudden, we’re going into the locker room down seven. They lit us up."

Also irking Spoelstra was Miami’s three-point defense. The Bulls hit 16 of 39 three pointers (41 percent) against a Heat team that entered tied for second in the league behind Boston in fewest three-pointers allowed per game (9.1), on an average of 24.9 attempts.

Asked if it was individual breakdowns or players not rotating quickly enough to three-point shooters, Spoelstra – visibly disgusted – cited "all of the above, including coaching preparation."

Justin Holiday hit 7 of 11 three-pointers for a Bulls team that has won 14 of 21 to improve to 17-27.

"We weren’t playing hard enough; that’s not like us," said James Johnson, who had eight points and two rebounds and missed all four of his free throws. "Our brains rested."

Said Josh Richardson: "We weren’t communicating very well."

Every Heat starter had a negative plus minus, including a minus 20 for Whiteside and minus 18 for James Johnson.

By contrast, none of the Heat’s backups had a negative plus-minus, and Miami outscored the Bulls by 16 with Kelly Olynyk on the court. Olynyk had 21 points and eight assists.

"Our fault we lost that game; the first unit didn’t play well," said Goran Dragic, who scored 11 in the fourth to finish with 22 points and nine assists before fouling out with 31 seconds left and the Heat down six. "When you try to get back, it needs to be the perfect storm."

Dragic, incidentally, was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week before the game, becoming the first Heat player to win that award twice in the same season since LeBron James late in the Big Three era.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked about dealing with Dion Waiters’ prolonged absence after choosing to undergo ankle surgery.

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