Heat fighting for playoff life without Waiters
MIAMI -- There is very little margin for error for the Miami Heat.
That is what happens when a team starts the season 11-30 and suddenly -- out of nowhere -- turns the proverbial and lumbering ship around.
On Sunday night, the Heat's ship sprung a leak, playing without injured starting guard Dion Waiters and losing at home to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Waiters won't be available either on Tuesday, when the Heat (34-36) play host to the Phoenix Suns (22-48) at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat will surely miss Waiters, who is their third-leading scorer (15.8) and is second in assists (4.3).
But the fact remains that Waiters' ankle is still swollen, and he is unable to put weight on it, meaning he is likely out for at least two weeks.
"We're just trying to get the swelling out," said Waiters, who sprained his ankle when he landed on a defender's foot on Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. "There's a lot of swelling.
"Hopefully, this thing keeps improving every day. I'm young. I'm 25. So my bone should heal kind of fast. I have faith. Hopefully I wake up (one day soon), and this swelling is gone."
Until Waiters returns, the Heat will rely on reserve shooting guards Josh Richardson (9.4 scoring average) and Wayne Ellington (11.3). Richardson got the start on Sunday, but Ellington and Tyler Johnson (13.7 scoring average) are likely to see increased playing time in Waiters' absence.
Miami will also try to get more from point guard Goran Dragic, who already leads the team in scoring (20.3) and assists (6.0).
That is fitting because the Suns -- Tuesday's opponent -- is Dragic's former team. Miami acquired him in a February 2015 deadline deal that so far has netted Phoenix very little -- veterans Danny Granger, Norris Cole, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton.
None of those four players are still on the Suns roster. Instead, the Suns' true return in the trade is yet to come -- first-round picks in 2018 and 2021.
Just what the Suns do with those picks will go a long way toward determining the trade's success or failure from the Phoenix perspective.
So far, the trade is a huge windfall for Miami while the Suns are headed to the draft lottery and a likely top-three pick. The Suns have already shut down point guard Eric Bledsoe for the season -- and not because of injury.
"We want to save some wear and tear on Eric as best we can," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said to Arizona Republic. "We do a lot of sports-science measurements.
"Eric has some of the higher load numbers in the league. We don't want him to get worn down in a season that will not end up with us in the playoffs."
Before he was shut down last week, Bledsoe had played 66 games and had put together his best season, averaging 21.1 points and 6.3 assists -- both career highs.
McDonough said Bledsoe was disappointed when he was told he was being shut down. But he shouldn't be surprised. The Suns are also not playing 34-year-old center Tyson Chandler, who is averaging 8.4 points and 11.5 rebounds; and guard Brandon Knight, who is averaging 11.0 points. Knight has a back injury.
The availability of three other Suns is uncertain. Starting shooting guard Devin Booker (ankle) missed the previous game. Backup guards Ronnie Price (lower-leg contusion) and Leandro Barbosa (illness) also missed the previous game.
Booker, who is averaging 20.9 points, would be a big loss. His absence would leave small forward T.J. Warren (13.9) as the top available scorer.
Updated March 20, 2017