The Miami Heat‘s lineup has not been at full strength for quite some time and the ongoing absence of franchise star Jimmy Butler is hard to ignore. Is he improving? How much longer will he remain out? These questions have yet to be addressed by the Heat’s staff.
Butler initially injured his coccyx on November 27 during the Heat’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls. While clearly in pain, Butler was able to finish out the game, scoring 18 points, four rebounds, five assists, and five steals.
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After missing four games, the 32-year-old attempted to return to action against the Memphis Grizzlies on December 6 but ended up reaggravating his injury just minutes into the first quarter, awkwardly falling after coming into contact with Jaren Jackson Jr.’s hip.
On December 23, Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman responded to a letter asking if Butler was “being held hostage by the Heat medical staff,” offering two possible reasons why Miami is keeping one of the league’s best two-way players out for longer than seemingly necessary:
First, considering that he immediately was sidelined by the injury after attempting an initial comeback after a week, the preference is to get it to something closer to fully healthy. Plus, with the Heat 5-2 in the games Jimmy has missed since his relapse, there could be some thought from the basketball side about getting through this softer part of the schedule before the road gets tougher with upcoming games against the Warriors, Suns and Hawks.
The Soonest Butler Could Return Would Be on December 26, But That Seems Unlikely
Butler has already been ruled out for the Heat’s game against the Detriot Pistons on Thursday, December 23, which means the earliest he can return would be on December 26, when Miami plays the Orlando Magic at the FTX Arena.
However, the five-time All-Star has not traveled with the team for a few weeks, nor has he been spotted working out with the team before games, signs that hint his return is not imminent.
In addition to Butler, other Heat players unavailable to play against the Pistons include Caleb Martin (protocol), Bam Adebayo (thumb surgery), Markieff Morris (whiplash), P.J. Tucker (left leg nerve inflammation), and the man who has yet to play a game thus far this season, Victor Oladipo.
Heat’s Backups Are Impressively Holding Things Down While Much of the Starting Lineup Is Out
With so many starters out of the lineup, the Heat’s backup players have admirably stepped up to keep Miami in the win column. On Thursday night, the Heat will once again have just 10 players available to play, most of them being bench warmers who would never typically see that much playing time.
During the Heat’s 125-96 win over the Indiana Pacers on December 21, Heat’s Max Strus got his first-ever career start, while guard Gabe Vincent, forward KZ Okpala, and center Omer Yurtseven were each on the court for more than 20 minutes.
This victory marked the Heat’s fifth win in their past seven games playing without the team’s core duo of Butler and Adebayo.
Heat’s team captain Udonis Haslem is particularly proud of the young guns stepping up the way they have this month.
“You can’t put a price tag on the things that are manifesting for KZ and O,” Haslem said, per Miami Herald‘s Anthony Chiang. “Even though Gabe and Max have had experience, you still see the growth of getting consistent minutes and actually digging into the details in the shootaround. They always dug into the details, but now they’re in the first group. So now the expectation is for them to be more locked in. They stepped up to the plate.”