The Miami Heat will be without two if its best players for Saturday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena.
After star Jimmy Butler practiced with the Heat in Atlanta on Friday, the team announced Saturday morning that Butler was not with the team because of a personal reason and will not play against the Hawks on Saturday night. Butler has not yet been ruled out for Sunday night’s matchup against the Spurs in San Antonio on the second night of the Heat’s back-to-back set, with the hope that he may be able to re-join the team for that contest on the third stop of Miami’s four-game trip that ends Tuesday against the Hornets in Charlotte.
This news regarding Butler comes in the wake of an injury to leading scorer Tyler Herro that will keep him out for Saturday’s games against the Hawks and beyond. Herro will miss at least the next two weeks after sustaining a Grade 2 ankle sprain in Wednesday’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies that kicked off a four-game trip for the Heat.
With Butler and Herro out, the Heat is without two starters against the Hawks.
“It doesn’t make it more complex,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following Saturday’s morning shootaround in Atlanta when asked about the challenges of playing Saturday night without Butler and Herro. “We have guys that can step in. We’re not looking at this as a long-term thing. We’re looking at this as all hands on deck, figure it out and do whatever we have to do.
Saturday marks the second game Butler has missed this season, as he also sat out the Heat’s road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 28 for rest purposes. Butler is averaging 18.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 7 of 14 (50 percent) on threes this season.
Saturday is the first game Herro has missed this season and he’ll miss a few more as he recovers from his sprained ankle. Herro is averaging a team-high 22.9 points to go with five rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 25 of 61 (41 percent) from three-point range this season.
While Butler could be back on Sunday against the Spurs, the Heat is still adjusting to life without Herro. Spoelstra wants the Heat to win games behind its defense while the team’s leading scorer is out.
“I’m seeing a lot more good things,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s defense, which entered Saturday ranked 10th in defensive rating for the season. “A lot more multiple efforts, a lot more resolve defensively. It’s still not where I want it to be in terms of a consistency standpoint. But we’re making a lot more efforts. The film and the numbers are showing that. We’re banging on the door on the top 10. It’s not where we want to settle in. We’d like to be better than that. But it’s getting closer.”
As for how much the Heat’s offense changes amid Herro’s extended absence and the uncertainty surrounding Butler’s status, Spoelstra didn’t want to make that concession yet.
“It will depend. We’ll see,” Spoelstra said. “I’m not coming into this conceding that we’re going to have to play totally different. We still want to play to our strengths. We still want to get to this identity and do it more consistently.”
The Heat will also be without another rotation player on Saturday against the Hawks, with Caleb Martin missing his eighth straight game because of left knee tendinosis. And Heat two-way contract guard RJ Hampton remains in the G League with the organization’s G League affiliate.
That left 13 players available for the Heat against the Hawks: Bam Adebayo, Thomas Bryant, Jamal Cain, Haywood Highsmith, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Josh Richardson, Duncan Robinson, Orlando Robinson, Dru Smith and Cole Swider.
“Situations happen,” Adebayo said after Saturday’s morning shootaround. “We work hard in the summer so when we have situations like this when we’re down men, we can still get a win.”
It has been a busy travel week for Swider.
Swider, who is on a two-way contract with the Heat, was sent to Sioux Falls, S.D., to join the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, on Tuesday. But after Herro sprained his ankle during Wednesday’s win over the Grizzlies, Swider received a call to re-join the Heat in Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks.
“I watched the game and I saw Tyler go down. So I was mentally preparing myself [to be told to re-join the Heat],” Swider said. “Not expecting anything, but mentally preparing myself. And then I got the call and made the trip out here. So it was good.”
The Skyforce opens the G League regular season on Saturday night against the Indiana Mad Ants. Swider, 24, said he’ll be keeping track of that game from afar.
“They looked great in the practice I went out there for,” Swider said. “They looked really well prepared.”