Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Heat’s playoff fate rests in healing power for 36-, 37-year-old debut

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Building a competitive roster for the ages is nothing new for Pat Riley. Over the years, it has been the older players who have fueled the Miami Heat’s championship success.

But the reality, nonetheless, is the inherent risk with older players.

That’s where the heat stands at 8:30 p.m. Saturday in Game 3 of these Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics.

The latest concern is with 37-year-old power forward PJ Tucker, who briefly abandoned the Heat’s Tuesday Game 1 win at FTX Arena with an ankle sprain, and then went for good in the third quarter of Thursday night’s Game 2 blowout home loss. went out for a knee injury.

The ongoing concern lies with 36-year-old point guard Kyle Lowry, who has been missing for the past two weeks with a hamstring strain, which also had him ruled out this post season.

While Lowry missed only one game due to an injury during the regular season – an ankle sprain in the October road opener – this latest absence has been amplified by the breakout return of Celtics point guard Marcus Smart on Thursday. He closed with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds in Thursday’s 127-102 win over Boston, which leveled the best-of-seven series at 1-1 after missing the series opener with a midfoot sprain.

Asked after Thursday night’s loss if he had any updates about Lowry, who has missed eight of the last 10 matches with a hamstring problem, initially remained on April 22, the Heat coach Erik Spoelstra only said, “Not yet.”

A spokesman for the team then added, “He’s making progress,” before Saturday night’s game at TD Garden kicked off the heats Friday.

As for Tucker, Spolestra pointed only to the flexibility of his starting power.

“If you ask him,” said Spoelstra, “he says he’s good to go. We’ll just have to see. I’ll talk to the trainers.”

In Tucker’s case, it’s an issue of test results, with Yahoo Sports reporting an MRI scheduled Friday.

“I think he will be fine,” said Heat forward Jimmy Butler. “If he’s not ready to go, though, everyone else has to be ready to go. Those are some even bigger shoes to fill, because he does it on the defensive end. We’re capable of that though.”

With the exception of a leg issue in December, Tucker’s season was largely healthy, missing a pair of games with a burning knee in midseason and then sitting in three of the final four games as the Heat took the conference’s No. The seed was wrapped.

Each championship iteration of the Heat features veterans from Ray Allen to Shane Battier to Rashard Lewis to Gary Peyton to Shaquille O’Neill.

But those components were largely complementary pieces.

With this season’s roster, Lowry and Tucker are early, essential components.

Without Tucker, there are mostly replacement substitutes who have either struggled or haven’t played as of late, such as Caleb Martin or Markif Morris. There will also be options to grow up, with more time for backup center Dwayne Deadmon, or younger, with Butler moving into a power role and an extra wing added to the mix.

In place of Lori, there has been encouraging, but nonetheless nascent, drama from Gabe Vincent.

Butler said, the playmaking role may require a change in focus.

“You know, I basically have to do Kyle’s job and make sure people are in places where they can be comfortable and be most successful,” Butler said. “It’s on me. I don’t think it’s on Spoe.”

The question becomes how much Butler the Heat can continue to ask or demand.

“I think I got a little selfish on the offensive end,” Butler said of a 70-point start in the first two games of the series. “I had to look to use my teammates. They’ve been with me all year, and I had to go back to that because whenever they’re scoring, whenever they’re on the offensive, we would have been a better team.” Huh.


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