Max Strus

Lowry Out For Game 2; Smart Probable, Horford Doubtful

The Heat and Celtics have released their latest injury updates (Twitter links) for Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Finals matchup on Thursday. Miami’s Kyle Lowry (hamstring) remains out for Game 2, but Boston’s Marcus Smart (right mid-foot sprain) has been upgraded to probable after both players missed Game 1.

In addition to Smart, Al Horford (health and safety protocols) is listed as doubtful for Boston, while little-used backup Sam Hauser (right shoulder) is out. For Miami, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent are both listed as questionable with hamstring issues, but both Heat players have appeared in all 12 postseason games to this point, so it would be surprising if they’re unavailable on Thursday.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported earlier today that Smart was targeting a Game 2 return and that Horford was “highly unlikely” to be available, and Boston’s official designations align with Haynes’ sources.

Strangely, the Heat have gone 7-0 in the playoffs in Lowry’s absence to this point, and lost both games he played against Philadelphia, when he was clearly still hampered by the hamstring strain. Vincent has filled in admirably for the team’s normal starting point guard, and that’s likely to continue.

Miami leads the series 1-0 after a 118-107 victory on Tuesday, led by 41 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks (plus stellar shooting) from Jimmy Butler. The turning point in the first game was the third quarter, when Miami outscored Boston 39-14, led by Butler’s 17 points.

Kyle Lowry To Miss Game 1 Of Eastern Conference Finals

Heat point guard Kyle Lowry has officially been listed as out for Game 1 against the Celtics due to his lingering hamstring injury, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald tweets.

The news comes as no surprise since Lowry didn’t practice on Monday. Hobbled by the injury, Lowry has appeared in only five postseason games. He last took the court in Game 4 of the semifinals against Philadelphia, when he scored just six points with seven assists and four turnovers in 30 minutes on May 8.

Caleb Martin (ankle sprain), Max Strus (hamstring strain), P.J. Tucker (calf strain) and Gabe Vincent (hamstring strain) are listed as questionable, Chiang adds in another tweet. Most Heat players who have been listed as questionable throughout the playoffs have ended up being active.

Strus has been one of the breakout performers in the postseason. He averaged 19.5 PPG and 10.5 RPG in Games 5 and 6 against Philadelphia. Tucker averaged 8.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 1.7 APG in 30.7 MPG during the Sixers series while providing his usual hard-nosed defense.

Heat Notes: Lowry, Starting Lineup, Strus, Butler

Heat guard Kyle Lowry (hamstring) didn’t practice with the team on Sunday, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald tweets. Lowry was with the team for practice, but he didn’t participate. As Jackson notes, this doesn’t bode well for his status this week, as the Eastern Conference Finals will tip off on Tuesday.

Lowry suffered a hamstring injury in the first round against Atlanta. Last round, the Heat went 4-0 against the Sixers without him and 0-2 with him, but he was playing through the injury in his two games. Lowry ranked fourth on the team in scoring (13.4 points per game) and first in assists (7.5 per game) this season.

With Miami playing Boston next round, the team could use Lowry as an offensive option, as the Celtics are viewed as one of the league’s elite defenses. The Heat will likely continue to rely more on Gabe Vincent, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo until Lowry returns.

Here are some other notes from Miami:

  • Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel examines whether playing Lowry off the bench is a viable option. The Heat have started Vincent in place of Lowry and may not want to impact its ongoing chemistry, but Lowry started in all 63 of his regular season games this season. Aside from being a better player, Lowry also holds more playoff experience than Vincent does, making a move to the bench seem unlikely.
  • Max Strus has played a key role in the team advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press writes. Strus finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds in Game 5 against the Sixers last round, then recorded 20 points and 11 rebounds to win the series in Game 6. “It’s one of the biggest moments, not only in my career, but in my life,” Strus said. “This is the moment you want to be in being a basketball player and doing what we do for a living. And I’m super excited and want to start [next series] tomorrow.”
  • Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald explores how most advanced metrics say Jimmy Butler has been the best player in the playoffs. Butler’s traditional stats have also been superb, as he’s averaging a career-high 28.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He has also shot 52.5% from the floor and 36% from three-point range, leading Miami to an 8-3 postseason record.

Kyle Lowry Will Start Game 3 Against Sixers

5:33pm: Lowry is active and will start tonight, tweets Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press.

5:00pm: Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters, including Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel, that Kyle Lowry is nearing a return for Friday’s Game 3 against the Sixers.

The intention is for him to warm up and play,” Spoelstra said.

The 36-year-old point guard has missed the team’s last four playoff games after suffering a strained left hamstring in Game 3 of Miami’s first-round matchup with Atlanta. Lowry had previously been listed as questionable, but barring any setbacks, it sounds like he should be available.

Stylistically it will change things in the margins,” Spoelstra said of Lowry. “But obviously he’s a highly decorated, experienced, playoff-battle-tested guy. He’s the guy that all season long that we turned to get us organized, particularly in the moments of truth. You need as many guys that you can available during the playoffs, that goes without saying.”

Winderman adds that all of the other Heat players who were listed as questionableTyler Herro (ankle), P.J. Tucker (calf), Gabe Vincent (knee), Max Strus (hamstring), and Caleb Martin (ankle) — will be active on Friday.

Vincent had been starting in place of Lowry, and the team went 4-0 in his absence. If Lowry does play, he’s highly likely to return to the starting lineup, as he started all 63 of his regular season games, averaging 13.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.1 steals with a .440/.377/.851 shooting line.

Embiid Listed As Out For Game 3 But Status Could Change

Joel Embiid is listed as out for Game 3 against the Heat on Friday but the availability of the Sixers All-Star center could change before game time, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets.

With Miami up 2-0 and the series shifting to Philadelphia, Embiid must be listed as out since he’s still in concussion protocols, Kyle Neubeck of tweets. Listing him as “out” does not necessarily mean he will be sidelined for Game 3, but it means he hasn’t cleared protocols yet, Neubeck explains.

NBA injury list rules would allow the Sixers to update his status over the course of the day on Friday, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets.

Embiid suffered an orbital fracture and mild concussion when he was struck by Pascal Siakam in the late going of Philadelphia’s first-round clincher against the Raptors. The Sixers have been encouraged by Embiid’s progress this week.

The Heat have listed six players as questionable for Game 3, the team’s PR department tweetsKyle Lowry (hamstring), Tyler Herro (ankle), Caleb Martin (ankle), Max Strus (hamstring), P.J. Tucker (calf) and Gabe Vincent (knee) hold that designation but are all traveling to Philadelphia this afternoon. Lowry hasn’t played since Game 3 of the first-round series against Atlanta.

Heat’s Butler, Herro Available For Game 1

Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and several other Heat players who were listed as questionable for Game 1 of the second-round series against the Sixers are available to play, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald tweets.

Butler missed the Game 5 clincher against the Hawks due to knee inflammation after averaging 30.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 5.3 APG in the first four games. Herro (illness), Max Strus (hamstring), P.J. Tucker (calf), Caleb Martin (ankle) and Markieff Morris (illness) were also listed as questionable on Sunday but are now expected to suit up.

Officially, these players are listed as “warming up with intention to play,” Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel tweets.

Starting point guard Kyle Lowry will miss his third straight game due to a hamstring strain.

Heat Notes: Adebayo, Butler, Strus, Haslem, Oladipo

More than three years before Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler led the Heat to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference this season, they were almost traded for one another, Adebayo said during a recent appearance on J.J. Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast.

According to Adebayo, his name came up in trade talks in 2018 when the Heat were exploring the possibility of acquiring Butler from the Timberwolves.

“You heard the Minnesota situation,” Adebayo told Redick, according to Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel. “And it’s crazy, because I almost got traded for Jimmy, to Minnesota. … (team president) Pat (Riley) wouldn’t trade me. Like he was, ‘Nah, I see something good in this kid.’ Yadda, yadda, yadda. And, at that point, I’m sweating bullets. Like, I’m not trying to be traded. I like it in Miami. It’s warm. I kind of got my feet wet. I’m familiar with the place.”

According to Winderman, the Heat’s offer to Minnesota in 2018 ended up revolving around Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters, and draft picks. The Wolves instead sent Butler to the Sixers, who flipped the veteran swingman to Miami less than a year later in a sign-and-trade deal involving Richardson.

Here’s more on the Heat:

  • In an interview with Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Heat wing Max Strus discussed his recovery from a 2019 ACL tear, his experience in Miami, and his long-term career goals. Strus – who is under contract with the Heat for one more season before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2023 – said he’s taking things year by year but would “love to be here” long-term. “I think it’s been great for my career, and I think I’m a good fit for the Heat and what we do here,” he said. “I try not to get too caught up in that because you never know what’s going to happen.”
  • While the March 23 sideline spat involving Jimmy Butler, Udonis Haslem, and head coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t look good, the Heat were able to quickly move past that incident and have no regrets, per Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I could have been a little more cool-headed,” Haslem said on Cari Champion’s podcast. “Jimmy could have been a little more cool-headed. But I don’t think neither one of us regret that situation. Because you look at the type of basketball we’re playing now. A couple of days later, we were back drinking wine together.”
  • After returning to the court last month following a long recovery from quad surgery, Victor Oladipo appeared in just eight of the Heat’s last 17 games and only played 20 or more minutes three times. However, he showed just how valuable he can be by averaging 30.5 points on 60.6% shooting in his final two games. As Winderman writes in another Sun Sentinel article, the Heat will face a tough decision on how and when to insert Oladipo into a crowded rotation for the postseason. “I don’t have no control with that,” the two-time All-Star said. “If my number is called, I’ll be ready.”

Heat Notes: Rotation, Playoffs, Butler, Strus

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has changed his rotation since losing four straight games, replacing Duncan Robinson with Max Strus in the starting lineup, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald writes. In addition, Victor Oladipo and Markieff Morris have both received DNPs for the past two games.

“These are tough decisions and there’s a lot of different things that could work,” Spoelstra said this week. “We just felt at this time, this particular time, that these moves may clean up some things with the rotation. But those aren’t easy things. I think we all just have to have empathy and grace for some of these changes for the guys that didn’t necessarily play tonight.”

Miami defeated Sacramento 123-100 on Monday and Boston 106-98 on Wednesday. The team is attributing its success to better offensive spacing, but the defense has also improved. Prior to that, the club allowed 110, 111, 118 and 113 points in its four consecutive losses.

Here are some other notes from Miami:

  • Speaking of the team’s rotation, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel examines whether Spoelstra will use a 10-man group in the playoffs. Spoelstra has played Gabe Vincent, Tyler Herro, Robinson and Dewayne Dedmon off the bench these past two games, though Caleb Martin (calf) missed both contests.
  • Jimmy Butler briefly acknowledged his recent altercation with Spoelstra and Udonis Haslem, Winderman notes in a separate story. “Things happen… and we move on from it,” he explained. Butler, Spoelstra and Haslem all discussed the incident and quickly moved past it shortly after the March 23 game, sources said.
  • In addition to starting games, Strus is proving he can close games for the team, Winderman writes. Strus logged nearly 32 minutes against Boston on Wednesday, finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. He also registered a team-best +17 net rating.

Southeast Notes: Unseld, Herro, Strus, Vincent, J. Johnson

Wes Unseld Jr. has been thrown into the deep end during his first year as an NBA head coach, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington, who notes that the Wizards have used a franchise-record 29 players in games this season.

Injuries, trades, and COVID-19 outbreaks have shaken up the Wizards’ roster, and Unseld himself missed multiple games when he contracted COVID. Despite having to deal with a somewhat chaotic first season in D.C., Unseld has tried his best to take it all in stride.

“With this being my first experience in this chair, in a weird way it’s the norm. I can’t compare it to anything,” Unseld told Hughes. “But it’s not lost on me that this has been a bizarre experience, just because of all the things that we’ve had to process and go through.”

Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who is out for the rest of the season while he recovers from wrist surgery, said he had “huge respect” for the way Unseld has responded to a challenging year.

“That’s tough on a coach, a first-year coach,” Beal said. “I’m very impressed with how well he’s handled the adversity.”

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • With Tyler Herro extension-eligible beginning this July, Keith Smith of Spotrac takes a closer look at what the guard’s next contract might look like and considers how much the Heat should be comfortable paying to lock up a player who is currently a sixth man.
  • Now that the Heat‘s roster is healthier than it has been all season, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent aren’t getting the same sort of consistent minutes they were earlier in the year. However, as Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald writes, the two reserves said they were prepared for that possibility, recognizing that the coaching staff needs to experiment with different lineups ahead of the postseason. “They got to play with things. They got to see what works, see what doesn’t work and try to get this chemistry going in a short span,” Vincent said. “I kind of knew it was coming. But you don’t really know how it’s going to go. You could only prepare for something like that so much.”
  • Nate McMillan‘s inclination to trust his veterans over rookies has meant there has been no NBA role this season for first-rounder Jalen Johnson, who has spent much of his rookie year in the G League. According to Chris Kirschner of The Athletic, the Hawks are still very intrigued by the potential of Johnson, who was recalled today from the NBAGL with John Collins out, but it remains unlikely that he’ll see regular minutes this season.

Southeast Notes: Kuzma, Oladipo, Spoelstra, Hampton

Versatile Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma is enjoying his new opportunity as Washington’s highest-usage player following a trade from the only NBA team he had ever known, the Lakers, during the 2021 offseason, writes Josh Robbins of The Athletic. Kuzma won a title as a key rotation player for Los Angeles in 2020.

“I’ve referred to him on a number of occasions as our Swiss Army knife,” Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “Whatever we need in that moment, he’s capable of doing.”

The 6’9″ Kuzma is averaging 17.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 3.4 APG in 60 games for Washington, with shooting splits of .456/.342/.725.

“It’s been a great change of pace for me, a change of scenery,” the 26-year-old said of his new club. “I did as much as I (could) to maximize (myself) when I was with my former team, with changing my role every single year for the betterment of the team and trying to fit in with great players.

“But here, it’s been a lot different, because I don’t necessarily have to do that. My role has changed here. If you think about the first 25 games, I was in a different type of role than I am now: more scoring and just doing more things with the ball. It’s just great to be in a situation where I can just be myself and do what I do, and not dummy myself down.”

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • Heat reserve guard Victor Oladipo returned to the court with Miami for the first time this season on Monday. He logged 11 points while shooting 4-for-7 from the floor in a 123-106 win over Oladipo’s former team, the Rockets. Oladipo called his return from a right knee quadriceps tendon surgery “everything I wanted and more,” per Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald. A former two-time All-Star and 2o18 All-Defensive First Team honoree for the Pacers, Oladipo returned with a 15-minute cap. He has appeared in just 53 contests since the beginning of the 2019/20 NBA season due to a variety of injuries. When asked about when the guard would exceed his current strict on-court time limit, head coach Erik Spoelstra was quick to establish that the club is taking a longer-term approach. “I’m going to temper those expectations,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been out a year. Three years of injuries. Fifteen minutes, that feel amazing to him and to everybody in the locker room. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves on anything else.” 
  • Now that Oladipo is back as a contributor on the hardwood for the Heat, Spoelstra looks forward to having to make some roster adjustments with his perimeter players, according to Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald. Miami guards Max Strus and Gabe Vincent rode the bench, until the game was well out of reach in the fourth, to accommodate Oladipo’s return. “Big shout out to Max and Gabe, who have been playing really well,” Oladipo said after the contest. “For them to sacrifice their minutes tonight, I know that’s not easy.” Spoelstra acknowledged the roster crunch but appeared to dismiss it as being an issue for team chemistry. “That’s for amateurs,” Spoelstra said. “Guys understand the opportunity with this group. It’s not all going to be perfect. Everybody is not always going to be happy, but we have a really mature group in this locker room… We have a bunch of guys who can fit in and impact the game. Max and Gabe didn’t play much, but they can come in and do the same thing.”
  • With rookie Magic guard Jalen Suggs missing Orlando’s last two games due to a right ankle sprain, second-year guard R.J. Hampton has been tasked with bigger-ticket defensive assignments, writes Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel. The 6’4″ guard may still be struggling on offense, as he is averaging 7.3 PPG on 38.4% field goal shooting this season, but he has exhibited plenty of promise on the other side of the floor.