Caleb Martin goes from ‘sad puppy’ back to pitbull instincts in Heat return

CHICAGO — The injury was hard to take.

Yes, for Caleb Martin, as the Miami Heat forward was sidelined since the season opener with ongoing knee pain from offseason workouts. But, to a degree, even more so for center Bam Adebayo to watch as his teammate had no choice but to sit by idly.

“Seeing him on the bench,” Adebayo said of Martin’s time dealing with knee tendinosis, “he looked like a sad puppy, waiting to just have his moment.”

That moment came in Thursday night’s 122-115 victory over the Brooklyn Nets at Kaseya Center that extended the Heat’s winning streak to seven, when he played a productive 12:16 in reserve, his first minutes since pulling himself from the Oct. 25 season-opening loss to the Detroit Pistons.

“It felt good, to be able to be out there, get running, moving around,” said Martin, whose play in the playoffs, particularly in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, helped fuel the Heat’s run to last season’s NBA Finals. “You know the game seems real quick, a little fast right now. But I feel like I was picking it up pretty quick. It was just good to be out there with the guys, for sure.”

The energy was there from the outset, converting a corner 3-pointer on his first shot in a game in three weeks, closing with six points, two assists and a rebound in his carefully measured minutes. The emotion also was there, as he was called for a technical foul after celebrating his second 3-point conversion.

With the Heat already in the midst of their longest winning streak in five years, Martin said it was important not to get in the way as he got back into the mix.

“I mean, you don’t want to come in and step on anybody’s toes, you really don’t want to mess up any rhythm,” he said. “So I’m keeping that in mind. But we’ve got a lot of guys that are so versatile and adjust really well, so I knew it wasn’t going to be too much for those guys to fit me back in. So I was just glad to be able to move around, see a couple of shots go in and ultimately win the game.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said Martin’s maturity and versatility made for a seamless return.

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“I thought he fit in great,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat now turning their attention to a five-game trip that opens Saturday against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. “I don’t think he tried to overdo those 12 minutes. We had a pretty good understanding of what it would look like. He just fits in very seamlessly with how we have been playing. And that’s on both ends of the court.

“He’s just such a quick-twitch guy, that once he gets into a better rhythm, it’s only going to complement whatever lineup that he plays with. And he comes in with the second unit, but he’ll play minutes with the starting group, as well. He has a lot of reps with that group. But it’s great to have him back. And he feels great and we were able to check that box and we’ll just keep on going.”

The Heat were calculated with the return, including having Martin on the road during the 4-0 road trip that ended Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets. Tuesday morning he participated in rigorous scrimmaging that set the stage for Thursday’s comeback.

“It was very helpful for me,” he said, “specifically because as you’re getting that close to getting back in action, you don’t want to waste a day, you don’t want to stay back. It’s also part of that chemistry, the connectivity.”

Martin said the time off was needed, after forcing the return for the opener.

“I didn’t know how long it exactly was going to take,” he said of his layoff. “I just knew how it was feeling, something wasn’t right. I just knew that just wasn’t something I could necessarily fight through. You don’t want to come in and step on toes and not be yourself. So to be able to contribute like that, I think I’ll just keep building on that.”

Now that he’s back, the plan is to continue to build on his first winning moment of the season.

“Yeah, definitely more like myself,” he said, “just in terms of getting up my shot, getting into cuts and rotations. Some of the other stuff will get picked back up as I keep playing. But for the most part I felt a lot better than the first time I started.

“It was kind of an emphasis coming in just to make sure I wasn’t trying to force anything. I just wanted to let the game come to me and start right now trying to build that chemistry with the guys in the game. So it flowed really easy, and it just felt natural.”

So sad puppy no more.

“Good to have him out there, man,” Adebayo said.