Heat’s Dion Waiters will not play Wednesday vs. Hornets, but could join team on three-game trip

MIAMI — The Heat will have to play one of their biggest games of the season without Dion Waiters.

As Miami continues to fight for a playoff spot with just one week left in the regular season, Erik Spoelstra said after Tuesday’s practice that Waiters will not travel with the team to Charlotte and will not play in Wednesday’s game against the Hornets. Spoelstra did not rule out Waiters joining the Heat at some point during the three-game trip, which ends Saturday in Washington.

“He’s just still doing his treatment,” Spoelstra said of Waiters. “He’s not going on the trip with us to start. He’s going to continue to work here.”

Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (11) drives against Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green (0) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The Heat might actually have to play without two starters on Wednesday, as starting power forward Luke Babbitt is listed as questionable for the game due to a strained right hip flexor. Babbitt did not practice Tuesday, but he will travel with the team to Charlotte unlike Waiters.

Waiters has already missed the Heat’s past eight games with a sprained left ankle. The Heat have struggled without him, posting a 3-5 record without their starting shooting guard.

But Waiters is making progress, as he’s now out of his walking boot and he’s walking with less of a limp. Spoelstra said on Friday that the swelling in Waiters’ ankle had “come down considerably.”

“Of course it’s a big thing,” Goran Dragic said Tuesday of playing without Waiters. “Dion is a big part of this team. Me and him, we have a great chemistry. But, I’m not looking who is there, who is not. I’m comfortable with everybody on the court.”

Josh Richardson has started in Waiters’ spot, averaging 11.3 points on 42 percent shooting from the field and 36.1 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games.

The Heat have scored enough points with Waiters out, surpassing 100 points in five of eight games without him. But defense has been an issue, as Miami’s defense has allowed 102.9 points per game during this stretch.

As those numbers show, the Heat miss Waiters’ defense almost as much as they miss his offensive game. He ranks third on the team and 13th in the NBA among those who have played at least 35 games this season in opponent field-goal percentage, as players defended by Waiters are shooting 40.5 percent this season.

The Heat are obviously a better team with Waiters on the court. Miami is 27-19 in games Waiters plays in, compared to just 10-21 when he’s out.

“I mean I’m afraid he’s going to hurt himself,” Dragic said with a grin if he wants Waiters to play in a wheel chair. “That definitely would help if Dion would be there. It is what it is. We can’t force him. He’s still hurt. We need to continue to play hard with those guys that we have.”

[Heat really miss Dion Waiters down the stretch in close games]

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