Just when the Miami Heat finally got fully healthy, Jimmy Butler suffered yet another injury. The timing of this particular setback could not be any worse for a team trying to contend for an NBA title.
Although Butler had gone through a bit of a shooting slump in recent weeks, he still made an impact with his all-encompassing defensive presence, rim pressure, and playmaking. He’s typically a net positive player for Miami whether he’s scoring efficiently or can’t get the jumper to fall. Now, the Heat have to prepare for life without him or, at best, an injured Jimmy Buckets soldiering through the rest of the regular season. That’s bad news.
Miami has one of the deepest, most well-balanced rosters in basketball. But the Heat also have just a 2.5-game advantage on the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. With Butler out of the equation, it’s possible that head coach Erik Spoelstra’s team could fall in the standings.
Jimmy Butler’s ankle sprain the latest in a long line of injuries
Butler likely hoped to return with a vengeance after missing the Heat’s March 12 tilt with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Instead, he’s back on the shelf.
The six-time All-Star never looked right early in the contest, starting the game shooting 2-of-9 from the field. Things would only get worse, however. After logging just over 18 minutes, Butler suffered a right ankle sprain. Miami announced he would miss the remainder of the contest.
It’s unknown how much time Butler will miss. Regardless, this adds to a growing list of injury concerns.
Butler has appeared in just 48 of Miami’s 70 games this season. He’s had numerous setbacks throughout the season, including everything from a tailbone injury to issues with toe irritation. Butler also dealt with an ankle injury that cost him three games in January.
The 32-year-old has tried to tough his way through the durability woes, which is much in line with his hard-nosed mentality. However, the timing of this ankle injury creates a real dilemma for the Heat.
Playing through pain versus getting healthy for the playoffs
The Heat will await further word on the extent of Jimmy Butler’s ankle injury. But his recurring misfortunes present a real issue.
Miami cannot win an NBA title if Butler does not feel at least somewhat close to 100% heading into the playoffs. His attacking, downhill style of play and relentless effort on both ends are what make him an All-NBA talent, but they’re also taxing on the body.
With that in mind, do the Heat give Jimmy Buckets some extra rest? Well, it’s not that simple.
Spoelstra and Co. would probably love to keep the No. 1 seed and ensure home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, especially because of the depth of talent in the East. But Miami is just holding onto that top spot by a thread.
The Bucks have won seven of their last eight and figure to get a boost with the return of Brook Lopez. Meanwhile, the up-and-down Philadelphia 76ers (3.5 games back of Miami) will assuredly want to build momentum down the stretch as James Harden and Joel Embiid grow more comfortable playing together.
Having Butler on the floor for the better part of the last four weeks would help the Heat’s chances of keeping the No. 1 seed. But it could also jeopardize Butler’s health further. And even if Miami keeps the top spot, does the team want him feeling banged up ahead of a first-round potential matchup with the Brooklyn Nets?
Suddenly, things have gotten sticky in South Beach.
The decision ultimately lies with Butler
When all is said and done, availability decisions will come down to Jimmy Butler himself.
If Butler feels the team needs his presence and he can play through pain, that’s a sacrifice he’s probably willing to make. Perhaps the quiet steadiness of Kyle Lowry and continued scoring exploits of Tyler Herro take enough pressure off Butler’s shoulders that he can coast a bit.
However, Jimmy Buckets must play his cards a bit close to the chest. The Eastern Conference playoffs could become a bloodbath, and the healthiest team is probably the most well-equipped to emerge from the scrum. That might mean Butler has to take a seat for a bit, even if it means the Heat miss out on the No. 1 seed.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.