After injuries forced the Heat to evolve and adjust too many times last season, the hope was this roster would finally get a chance to show what it can do at full health this year.
The regular season is now two months old and the Heat have yet to get that opportunity, as injury issues continue to follow them.
Miami already knew it would be without center Hassan Whiteside (left knee bone bruise), forward James Johnson (right ankle bursitis), swingman Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) and forward Okaro White (left foot surgery) against the Hawks on Monday.
But it turns out the Heat also had to play without forward Justise Winslow (strained left knee) and starting point guard Goran Dragic (sore left elbow). Starting shooting guard Dion Waiters will play against the Hawks despite an illness that kept him out of shootaround.
“It starts with the mentality of not feeling sorry for yourself and not making excuses,” coach Erik Spoelstra said to reporters after the Heat’s shootaround session Monday. “This is the league and it’s not for the meek. Things happen. Every team goes through some stretch like this, if not more during the course of the season. But it’s an opportunity for your team to grow. Enough of the guys have been playing and in rhythm. It’s going to take a collective effort more than ever right now. No one guy is going to be able to do it by himself.”
Dragic hurt his left elbow — his shooting elbow — while diving for a loose ball late in Saturday’s home win over the Clippers. He did not participate in shootaround Monday, and Spoelstra said Dragic is day-to-day as Miami moves on from Atlanta to face the Celtics in Boston on Wednesday.
“I’m not sure what exactly happened,” said Dragic, who is averaging a team-highs in points (16.6) and assists (4.4) and missed his first game of the season Monday. “I kind of like hit it, hyper-extended it. It was fine after the game, but the next day it swelled up. We’re going to go see a doctor and see.”
The Heat have nine players available in Atlanta, which is one above the NBA-minimum of eight: Waiters, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Bam Adebayo, Udonis Haslem, Kelly Olynyk, Jordan Mickey and two-way contract player Derrick Walton Jr.
While McGruder and White are still out indefinitely as they recover from their respective surgeries, Whiteside and Johnson are expected to return in the near future.
Whiteside did not travel with the Heat on their current two-game trip, but he resumed court work Thursday for the first time since he went out on Nov. 29. And a Sunday MRI revealed Johnson is suffering from bursitis of his right ankle that will force him to miss seven to 10 days, according to the Heat, a timetable that would keep him out for four or five games starting with Monday’s contest against the Hawks.
Entering Monday, six Heat players have already combined to miss 65 games due to injury or illness this season. McGruder has yet to play a game as he recovers from preseason leg surgery and Whiteside has now missed 15 games with two different bone bruises on his left knee.
Heat players combined to miss an NBA-high 328 games due to injury or illness last season, and that trend hasn’t stopped yet this season.
“No excuses,” Tyler Johnson said before the Heat’s game in Atlanta. “Coach isn’t going to give us any. That’s the first thing he said when he talked to us today. Atlanta is a hard-playing team, but all we got to do is hold down the fort one game with no excuses and play our hardest.”