MIAMI – Heat center Hassan Whiteside is expected to return for tonight’s game against the Orlando Magic.
Whiteside had a full workout Sunday and went through shootaround this morning.
“Everything looked great,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He is going to warmup with the intent to play.”
Whiteside has missed 18 games this season because of two different bone bruises in his left knee, including the last 13 games dating back to Nov. 29 in New York. He said then he never really healed from the time he bumped knees with Magic center Nikola Vucevic on opening night, causing the initial bruise.
On Nov. 30 the Heat announced Whiteside had suffered a different bone bruise on the same knee and he would miss a minimum of one week but it could be at least two. The next day Whiteside said he would not return “until I’m totally 100 percent.”
“It’s definitely good to see that guy back,” guard Tyler Johnson said. “I know how hard he’s been working to get himself back in shape. We’re excited.”
The Heat, though, will be without forward James Johnson, who attempted to return Saturday after missing three games with bursitis in his right ankle. Johnson played eight minutes before re-aggravated the injury and did not return. He is listed as out as are Justise Winslow (left knee strain), Dion Waiters (left ankle sprain), Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) and Okaro White (left foot surgery).
Speaking of Johnson, Spoelstra said the team is going to be “a little bit more methodical with the protocol to get him back and really test it and we’ll go from there.” He added that Johnson is feeling a bit better but, “we’re going to test it quite a bit before we clear him the next time.”
Goran Dragic, who missed three games with a sore left elbow, returned Saturday and played 30 minutes. He is expected to play. Dragic was asked how he felt.
“It’s the same,” he said. “No excuses though. Just go out there and try to perform as best as I can.”
The Heat are 9-9 without Whiteside in the lineup. In the last 13 games, rookie Bam Adebayo has started seven games at center and Kelly Olynyk has started six.
“Bam showed us he has great qualities, that he can play a lot of minutes,” Dragic said.
Spoelstra will have several options at power forward with Whiteside returning, including Johnson (when he is healthy), Adebayo and Olynyk.
In the last 13 games, Adebayo has average 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 25.3 minutes. He is shooting 60.0 percent. Olynyk is averaging 11.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists in 28.4 minutes. He is shooting 48.0 percent.
Whiteside is averaging 14.9 points, 12.7 rebounds while shooting 58.5 percent in 15 games. But his biggest impact should come defensively.
“He can block shots in bunches,” Dragic said. “But probably the main thing is he’s such a force inside the paint. He can get second possessions for us. And defensively he’s such a presence inside. That’s what we’re looking forward to. And of course on offense too, his ability to throw him lobs and finish around the basket gives us that different game that we haven’t had in the past 15 gmaes without him.”