NBA: Trail Blazers, Heat hope injured stars can return to floor
The Miami Heat have played two straight games without their leading scorer, Jimmy Butler, who has been absent due to a sore left hip.
The Portland Trail Blazers have played four straight games without their leading scorer, Damian Lillard, due to strained right calf.
Even worse for the Trail Blazers, they’ve played two straight games without starting guard Anfernee Simons, who has left foot inflammation.
The Blazers and Heat will hope to welcome back these important pieces on Monday when Portland visits Miami.
Lillard, who is averaging 31.0 points, was upgraded to questionable for Monday. Simons, who is second on the Blazers in scoring (22.0) and third in assists (3.9), is doubtful.
Butler, who leads Miami in points (21.5) and ranks second in assists (5.5) and rebounds (6.4), could also be back on Monday after the Heat didn’t list him on their injury report.
The Heat, who are set to start a four-game homestand, are coming off a two-point loss at the Indiana Pacers.
On the bright side, the Heat have won two straight home games, and coach Erik Spoelstra is optimistic.
“We’re getting better,” Spoelstra said. “We were able to grind it into a one-possession game (at Indiana).”
Heat center Bam Adebayo, who has yet to miss a game this season, played against the Pacers despite a knee injury. Despite entering that game listed as questionable, he played 34 minutes and got a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
For the season, Adebayo is averaging 17.9 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds. He has three double-doubles this season, and he came close to another when Miami won at Portland on Oct. 26. In that 119-98 Heat victory, Adebayo had 18 points and eight rebounds.
That game was important. Portland entered the contest 4-0, but Lillard injured his calf in the third quarter.
The Lillard injury did not seem that significant in the moment.
“If this were a playoff game,” Lillard said at the time, “I would’ve played.”
However, Lillard has not played since that game, and Portland is just 2-3 without him.
With the Trail Blazers short on firepower, they may turn a bit more to Justise Winslow, who was Miami’s first-round pick in 2015. He spent his first five seasons with the Heat, but he is now on his third team in the past two-plus years.
Winslow is averaging 7.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He is a solid all-around player off the bench for the Blazers, but his weakness is perimeter shooting. His 3-point percentages are 31.5 for his career and 30.8 this season.
In Portland’s most recent game, a 102-82 road loss at the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, Winslow started but scored just five points.
Then again, no Blazers player scored more than 14 points as the absences of Lillard and Simons were felt.
Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said his players hustled, but they didn’t share the ball to his satisfaction.
“We didn’t pass the ball well enough,” Billups said. “We kind of played one-on-one too much in the first half.
“But I’m not disappointed in our performance at all — we fought. I’m only disappointed if the effort isn’t there, but we fought.”
–Field Level Media