In addition to holding Jimmy Butler out Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the start of a back-to-back road set that concludes Thursday night against the Houston Rockets, the Miami Heat said the approach will be the same in the team’s next back-to-back set of games.
After missing seven consecutive games last month due to a sore right knee, Butler was held out of the second night of a back-to-back last week by the Heat, when they lost at home to the Detroit Pistons, with the team making the same decision for Wednesday’s game.
With the approach to remain in place, it means Butler will miss one of the first two games on the Heat’s next trip, when they play Dec. 30 against the Denver Nuggets and Dec. 31 against the Utah Jazz, a trip that concludes with games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Laker and Phoenix Suns.
“Every team is dealing with that, and we have enough experience with it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said ahead of Wednesday night’s game against the Thunder at Paycom Center, the second stop on a four-game trip that concludes Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City. “We feel comfortable being able to slide different guys into that starting lineup.
“And the most important thing is our guys are feeling better. Jimmy is feeling better. That’s by far the biggest takeaway from this. And we want to make sure that he keeps feeling like that.”
The Heat said the expectation is that after the Dec. 30-31 set that there no longer will be preset limitations with Butler on back-to-back sets going forward. The Heat do not have a back-to-back set in January, with the first after that a Feb. 10 home game against the Rockets and a Feb. 11 road game against the Orlando Magic.
Asked why the decision was made to have Butler sit out Wednesday instead of Thursday, Spoelstra cited Butler’s workload in Monday night’s victory over the Indiana Pacers at the start of this trip, when Butler played 33:44, his 7-0 scoring run late in the fourth quarter securing the victory.
“It just made the most sense,” Spoelstra said, “based on his load and everything.”
Asked if he could, in turn, take a similar approach regarding rest with his roster on Thursday night in Houston, Spoelstra said, “Potentially. I don’t know yet, but potentially. We want to be smart as we handle these back-to-backs.”
In the five games since he returned from his seven-game absence, Butler has averaged 23.8 points on .618 shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals in an average of 33.8 minutes.
“And we want to keep him in that space,” Spoelstra said. “That’s why we’re handling his schedule right now the way we are. He’s feeling great.”
As for selective rest for others going forward, Spoelstra said it is a matter of looking out for the best interests of players.
“Like I said, the most important thing is our guys are feeling better,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat having pushed through an early-season series of injuries. “And you do have to manage the schedule. That’s part of it.
“It will work itself back when we don’t have back-to-backs.”
Ruth Hunter, the former Heat broadcast analyst and current team executive, has been announced as a member of the 2023 class for induction into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, to be honored on April 29.
As Ruth Riley, Hunter was a USA Today All-State selection in Indiana 1997, leading her high school to a 20-1 record. She then played collegiately in Indiana at Notre Dame, winning a national championship there as a senior.
She then moved on to a highly successful WNBA career, including time with the Miami Sol, a team coached by former Heat coach and current Heat broadcast analyst Ron Rothstein.