In the case of the Miami Heat, it’s now known why they value their depth.
Heading into a 4 p.m. battle between the East’s top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat will be without All-Star forward Jimmy Butler because of right ankle soreness for the second consecutive game at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
Along with Butler is rookie KZ Okpala, who’ll miss Thursday’s game with personal reasons. Okpala, 21, has yet to play at the NBA’s “bubble” setting, as a tendinitis issue kept him out during the Heat’s three scrimmages.
Also, veteran guard Goran Dragic is questionable to play against the Bucks with a sprained left ankle. Landing awkwardly with 5.2 seconds remaining in Tuesday’s 112-106 victory over the Boston Celtics, Dragic hobbled to the locker room before the game ended. Postgame X-rays on Dragic’s ankle returned negative.
Currently sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the Heat are just 1.5 games back from surpassing the Celtics for the third seed. And even without the likes of Butler, who leads the team in points (20.2), assists (6.1), steals (1.7) and minutes (34.2), their depth proved to serve efficiently for the time being.
“Our depth is really one of our biggest strengths,” coach Erik Spoelstra said in a zoom conference prior to the resumption of the 2019-20 season. “We can go three deep, really in any position. In a circumstance like this, I really think it’s gonna be more of a sprint than a marathon. We will be in uncertain circumstances where we may be required to use that depth because of any number of circumstances that are unpredictable.”
At this point, while it’ll be great to jump in the standings, it’s more about having Butler and Dragic ready by August 17, the start of the NBA playoffs.
Butler was electric in the Heat’s first of eight “seeding” games, finishing with 22 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in last Saturday’s 125-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
“He’s a key to our team and we’re better with him,” Kelly Olynyk said Sunday after Butler missed practice for unknown reasons. “It’s definitely great to get some other guys reps and some different looks. Whether he [Butler] gets in foul trouble or something happens. we’re going to need other guys to step up in his place and in anybody’s place who goes down.”
As for Dragic, he’s led the bench’s impressive efforts, averaging 19.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the Heat’s three seeding games. He posted a team-high 25 points in Monday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors and 20 points in a victory over the Celtics.
For what it seems, Kelly Olynyk will get another start as he fills in for Butler. Other than that, it’s unknown how coach Spoelstra plans to work with his 17-man rotation.