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Banged-up Heat welcome lowly Thunder to town

Feb 25, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry (7) talks with referee Gediminas Petraitis (50) during the first quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat likely will be without leading scorer Jimmy Butler when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

Butler, who is averaging 21.1 points and a team-high 1.8 steals, turned his right ankle in Tuesday’s 105-98 win over the Detroit Pistons. It was the third time this season that Butler has sprained one of his ankles, and he has missed 22 of Miami’s 70 games due to a variety of issues.

Given that, the Heat have grown accustomed to thriving with all sorts of absences this year, including 17 by point guard Kyle Lowry, 25 by center Bam Adebayo and 66 by shooting guard Victor Oladipo. All four of those players have been NBA All-Stars.

In addition, Tyler Herro — considered the frontrunner for NBA Sixth Man of the Year — has missed 13 games.

When those players have been out, role players such as Max Strus have come through. Strus, an undrafted guard who made his NBA debut in 2019, is having a career year, averaging 10.7 points. He ranks second on the team in 3-point shooting percentage (41.0).

Strus scored 16 points off the bench against the Pistons on Tuesday, entering the game only after Butler exited.

“Max stays ready no matter what,” Herro said.

If Butler is out on Friday, Herro becomes Miami’s No. 1 option. He is second on the team in scoring (21.0) despite starting just 10 of his 57 contests.

Herro has scored at least 20 points 34 times this season.

“Just have to find a way to get the ‘W’,” Herro said.

Miami is the obvious favorite to get another ‘W’ on Friday. The Heat, who lead the Eastern Conference with a 46-24 record, are 25-9 at home.

Oklahoma City (20-49) is one of the four worst teams in the NBA, by record.

The Thunder, who are 11-23 on the road, will enter Friday on a seven-game losing streak. Worse yet, it’s the third time this season that the Thunder have endured a skid that long. A loss on Friday would tie Oklahoma City’s season-worst streak.

The Thunder came the closest to breaking this skid on Wednesday, when they lost 122-120 to the San Antonio Spurs on Lonnie Walker IV’s game-winning 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left.

“We were one play away,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “I thought we showed great poise. We played with intensity and connectiveness.”

The Thunder did this without Derrick Favors (sore lower back) and rookie first-round pick Josh Giddey (sore right hip). Both of them have been out since Feb. 24.

In addition, point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played 35 minutes despite having been listed as questionable due to a sore right ankle. Daigneault said he will continue to monitor the injury to Gilgeous-Alexander, who leads the Thunder in scoring (24.3) and steals (1.3) while ranking second in assists (5.9).

Giddey tops the team in assists per game (6.4) and ranks third in scoring (12.5), and Favors averages 5.3 points.

Luguentz Dort, who ranks second on the Thunder in scoring (17.2), is out for the season due to a shoulder injury.

–Field Level Media