Jimmy Butler appreciates the perspective, the one of his not only having missed 12 of the previous 24 games, but then leaving Friday night’s loss to the Indiana Pacers with a sprained right ankle.
It has been both that type of season for Butler and the Miami Heat.
“Man, that’s on me,” Butler said of a lack of lineup continuity leaving the Heat at 16-17 during their two-day Christmas break that ends with Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the third on this four-game homestand that has opened 0-2. “You know what I’m saying? It’s tough whenever I’m in and out of the lineup so much. I don’t choose to do that obviously. But at this point, it’s frustrating.”
Butler spoke during a quiet moment in the locker room, yet to shower after Friday’s loss, sensing how this latest setback was playing all the way up to Pat Riley’s executive suite.
“I can only imagine how my teammates feel and my coaches feel, how coach Pat and them feel,” he said. “But I want to be out there, honestly. Because I think that I can help.
“I know that I can help. And I will get this thing right and we’ll be ready to string together some wins.”
After appearing in the season’s first eight games, the 33-year-old veteran forward missed two games in early November with hip tightness. He then returned to play five in a row before missing the next seven due to knee soreness. From there, he has not played more than three consecutive games, sitting out in the interim with absences listed for injury management and a gastrointestinal illness.
Then came Friday, when he scored 12 points in the first quarter, just two more in the second period, six in the third, and then was done for the night with 1:19 left in that third period.
“We’ll have a better idea the next couple days,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But he did [sprain the ankle] in the first quarter. You could see he was able to still be in a little bit of a rhythm and flow in the second quarter. But it tightened up at halftime and he wasn’t moving great in the third quarter. Then we all just made the decision, let’s be smart about this.”
Until Friday’s finish, there was a lack of clarity even on the bench about Butler’s status.
“I mean I realized with about like four minutes left that he wasn’t coming back,” said guard Tyler Herro, who tied Friday night’s game with a 3-pointer with 14.9 seconds to play, before Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton capped his career-high 43-point game with the winning 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds to play. “I asked him if he was all right, but I didn’t know he wasn’t coming back until the end of the game.”
Butler indicated he would push his return.
“My luck’s not the greatest right now,” he said. “So you’ve got to take it in stride, man. It’s part of this game, part of this league. But I’ll be back. And then as far as the second half goes, I came out and played and then my body cooled down.
“It was painful man, but I’ll be back.”
The approach to this point has been Spoelstra monitoring the minutes of Butler and 36-year-old point guard Kyle Lowry. Now that luxury could be lost, which could lead to an interesting decision for the start of the Heat’s five-game western swing that opens with a Friday night game at altitude against the Denver Nuggets and then a game the next night in the thin air against the Utah Jazz.
“I don’t know,” Butler said, when asked if it could be time to bypass rest days, with the Heat having dropped to ninth place in the Eastern Conference. “Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t. I know that every time I do step foot on that floor, home or away, I’m trying to win.
“And I’ll be even better. So that’s all that matters, keeping my guys’ confidence, keeping my guys’ heads in it in the right way, knowing that we are a good team and knowing that we will string together some wins.”