Five takeaways from Heat-Mavericks: Shorthanded Heat find a way behind one of best shooting nights in franchise history

Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington (2) shoots under pressure from Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris (34) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

MIAMI — No Hassan Whiteside, no Goran Dragic, no James Johnson, no Justise Winslow … no Dion Waiters, no problem.

The shorthanded Heat (17-15) overcame a long list of injuries to start their four-game homestand with a 113-101 win over the Mavericks on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. It’s the first time Miami has been at least two games over .500 since the end of the 2015-16 season.

Miami entered the game with just 10 healthy players available, as Dragic, Whiteside, James Johnson, Winslow, Okaro White and Rodney McGruder were out with injuries. But the Heat suffered another painful blow early in Friday’s contest when Waiters sprained his troublesome left ankle and left the game with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter, and never returned.

“This is the world we live in,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s injury-riddled roster. “You don’t have time to get down or feel sorry for yourself.”

Instead, the Heat got hot. Miami was incredibly efficient with a shooting percentage of 63.9 (46-of-72), which is the second-highest shooting percentage the Heat have recorded in a game in franchise history, and a 3-point shooting percentage of 64.0 (16-of-25).

Wayne Ellington played a big role off the Heat’s bench to tie a career-high with 28 points and make a career-high eight 3-pointers. Josh Richardson also turned in a strong performance with 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting, four rebounds and five assists.

The Mavericks (9-24) had a good shooting night, too. Led by 23 points from Yogi Ferrell, Dallas shot 50.7 percent against Miami.

But it wasn’t enough to overcome the Heat’s best shooting performance of the season.

Here are our five takeaways …

Another game, another injury: The last thing the injury-depleted Heat needed was … another injury. But that’s exactly what they got. Starting shooting guard Dion Waiters left the game with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter and never returned after spraining his left ankle on a drive to the basket. The X-ray on Waiters’ ankle was negative and no timetable for his return was given. But considering Waiters’ left ankle has been bothering him since last season, it’s concerning. He missed the final 13 games of the 2016-17 season after spraining the ankle on March 17. Waiters revealed during training camp that he could have had surgery on the ankle, but he decided against it because he would have been forced to miss eight to 10 months. In this scenario of undergoing surgery shortly after suffering the injury in March, he would have entered free agency this summer as a player who wouldn’t have been ready to play until somewhere between November and January under that timetable.

Waiters ended up signing a four-year, $52 million contract with the Heat this summer. $1.1 million of his salary this season is tied to a bonus that kicks in if he plays in at least 70 of Miami’s 82 games, raising his 2017-18 salary from $11 million to $12.1 million. Waiters already missed two games earlier this season for the birth of his daughter. Now, that bonus money is really in jeopardy.

Stay hot, Josh Richardson: While most of the Heat’s starting lineup is on the injury report, starting small forward Josh Richardson is still available. He continued his string of strong performances Friday with 24 points, four rebounds, five assists and two blocks. It’s been quite the month for Richardson. He’s averaging 18.1 points on 56.8 percent shooting from the field and 54 percent shooting from 3-point range in 11 December games. As shorthanded as the Heat are right now, Richardson couldn’t have picked a better time for a career-best month.

Adebayo shows off all-around game: Whether it was defending future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki, dunking the ball, grabbing a rebound or finding an open teammate, Heat center Bam Adebayo did it all Friday. The rookie finished with a stat line of 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while helping to limit Nowitzki to 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting. To put Adebayo’s five assists into perspective, Whiteside’s career-high is three assists. It’s going to be tough to keep Adebayo out of the rotation when Whiteside returns from injury.

“Bam has been getting better and better every single day,” Ellington said. “He comes in here and he puts the work in. It’s not happening by accident. He’s a guy that’s a pro. He comes in here to put the work in and the hours in with Juwan [Howard]. He’s definitely dedicated to his craft. His dedication is something that’s rare that you don’t really see out of rookies.”

Depth is being tested: After Waiters exited the game with a sprained left ankle, the Heat were left with just nine healthy players available. Because of the lack of depth, Derrick Walton Jr. (23.56), Ellington (39.26) and Adebayo (37.30) all logged a career-high in minutes. Walton, one of the Heat’s two two-way contract players was effective. The undrafted rookie finished with seven points and five assists.

“We like guys that have been coached well,” Spoelstra said of Walton. “It’s clear that he’s been coached well, not only in college but in high school. He’s a heady player, he’s a gutsy player, he’s a gamer. He doesn’t get sick at sea in these kind of moments. Throw him in there, he’ll get you organized and make the right plays.

No rest for the weary: Yes, the Heat are extremely shorthanded. No, they don’t have time to rest. The Heat will face the Pelicans on Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena to complete the rare home back-to-back, Miami’s only one of the season. In fact, it marks the Heat’s first home back-to-back since April 2012. And it will come against a team that features the All-Star frontcourt of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. It will be tough for Miami to contain those two with Whiteside and James Johnson both expected to miss the game. And if the Heat have to play with just nine healthy players again, many of them will be logging big minutes for the second consecutive night.

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