MIAMI – The Miami Heat are used to overcoming injuries. So when it was learned they would be without starting shooting guard Dion Waiters for the rest of the season the thinking was – we’ll overcome this, too.
“Losing a guy like Dion and what he brings is never easy,” guard Tyler Johnson said. “But I think all (this) year and last year it was by committee when somebody went down the next guy was working just as hard (to be ready) when it was their time to keep this thing rolling.”
Waiters will have surgery to repair a left ankle that he has sprained twice in the last nine months; in March, which caused him to miss the final 13 games of last season, and again Dec. 22. The surgery has yet to be scheduled and no timetable for his return has been announced but Waiters was told if he had the surgery last spring he would have needed eight to 10 months to recover.
“We feel we have enough depth and the way guys are playing and gaining confidence that we can go with the group we have right now,” said coach Erik Spoelstra who would not comment on the exact nature of Waiters’ injury.
“You feel for players and have great empathy when players go through injuries and go through things they can’t control. Every player, they want nothing more than to be out there and on the court for others and competing and being healthy. We’ll get a great plan for him going forward but in the mean time we’ll focus on the guys we have so we can continue to build.
“We don’t want to be satisfied with where we’ve been in first 41 games.”
The Heat (24-17) have won six consecutive games entering Sunday’s matinee (1 p.m.) against Milwaukee (22-19) at AmericanAirlines Arena. Johnson filled in the first seven games Waiters was out and Derrick Jones Jr., signed to a two-way deal two weeks ago, started the last two as Johnson dealt with neck spasms.
Johnson is expected to return to the starting lineup against Milwaukee.
“It’s going to be a tough loss but … we never use excuses,” starting point guard Goran Dragic said about losing his backcourt mate. “The next guy needs to gear up and try to play well. So far, so good.”
Dragic said having Johnson in the starting backcourt is no different than having Waiters.
“It’s nothing new for me or for him and we just feed off each other,” Dragic said.
Spoelstra has other options who to start on a fulltime basic but he likes the Dragic-Johnson backcourt. That also frees up some minutes for Wayne Ellington off the bench and with Johnson starting, Justise Winslow could become more of a ball handler off the bench.
Winslow is returning Sunday after missing 14 games because of a left knee strain.
Johnson had started just seven games in his first three years. He has started 10 this year, including three alongside Waiters when Dragic was dealing with a sore elbow. He is averaging 15.7 points as a starter and 10.8 off the bench.
Johnson said the only thing he had to get comfortable with was the first five to seven minutes of a game.
“After that, it’s whatever, it’s pretty normal,” he said. “I actually enjoy starting the third quarter more than the actual game. I think getting in there and trying to make an actual impact on the game … In the past, that was our weakness was slow third quarters. So I actually enjoy starting that third quarter.”