May 28, 2024

LOS ANGELES — The lasting image from Saturday’s game in Utah was a disoriented Haywood Highsmith being assisted into the locker room after a severe head-to-head collision at the end of a defeat to the Jazz at the Delta Center. The Miami Heat’s ability to bounce back has become a major concern as they proceed to face two matchups in Los Angeles during this five-game trip, taking on the Clippers on Monday and the Lakers on Wednesday.

Footwork poses a specific problem, especially for forward Jimmy Butler, who exited the game in the third quarter against the Jazz with a right-foot injury, just as he returned from a four-game absence due to a strained left calf. Butler seems plagued by injuries on one leg or the other, mirroring the broader issue for the Heat, where one injury is succeeded by another. In the Utah game, Kyle Lowry was sidelined with a head contusion, Caleb Martin with a sprained right ankle, and Josh Richardson with lower-back discomfort.

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The rotations became convoluted in the Jazz loss, with RJ Hampton starting at guard but playing only the initial 8:06, and Nikola Jovic opening at forward but playing just 9:50. Over the past two weeks, this has increased the workload on Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro to the extent that, despite Adebayo’s 28 points and 16 rebounds and Herro’s 25 points, the Heat couldn’t secure a win in Utah.

Adebayo expressed confidence, stating, “We’ve been in situations like this before. We’ve had guys out. For us, we have a deep bench. I feel like we can win any game with whoever is out there. Everybody knows the system, everybody’s locked in and we believe in one another.”

The loss in Utah followed a four-game winning streak during Butler’s absence. Herro emphasized that the prior success makes no excuse for the upcoming three games on this trip against formidable opponents like James Harden, Paul George, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal.

Coach Spoelstra downplayed the significance of the NBA’s injury report, noting that it often includes minor injuries and players listed as “available.” The Heat’s injury report has become increasingly bizarre, with Butler, Herro, and Adebayo playing together in only eight games this season, including the one Butler left prematurely on Saturday.

Spoelstra acknowledged the desire to have Butler on the court against the Jazz but emphasized the team had opportunities to win. Despite the challenges, the Heat are 5-3 in Butler’s absence. The team now faces a week against formidable opponents before returning home for a game against the Houston Rockets on January 8.

In a significant announcement, former Heat guard Goran Dragic formally declared his retirement from playing, expressing gratitude to the Heat organization and key figures like Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, and the Arison family. Dragic, 37, mentioned his readiness for the next challenge and expressed a desire to stay connected to the game of basketball.

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