Heat teammates praise Butler for pushing through injury before being sidelined, ‘JB’s a warrior’

MIAMI — As they went into Friday night’s winner-take-all play-in game against the Chicago Bulls, the Miami Heat paused to reflect on the perseverance of their leader.

While a sprained MCL in his right knee took Jimmy Butler out of Friday night’s showdown at Kaseya Center, it did not deter him from playing to the finish of Wednesday night’s play-in loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, despite sustaining the injury late in the first quarter.

The fact that Butler played an additional 30:06 with an injury later diagnosed as one that would keep him out for weeks left teammates with considerable respect.

“I’ve had that,” Heat forward Caleb Martin said. “I’ve had that before. Knowing what I felt when I did, knowing that he played the extra minutes to finish out the game like that, JB’s a warrior.

“That’s why he’s the head of the snake here. He leads and we follow.”

Martin said even in the moment, even in a heartbreaking loss, it was appreciated.

“He knows,” Martin said, “how much we appreciate him doing that.”

Friday became the 23rd game missed this season by Butler, an absence accompanied by empathy.

“It’s just his competitive will, to be out there and play through an injury, just says how much he wants to be out there,” guard Tyler Herro said of an effort that included a Butler steal and fullcourt sprint for a running dunk late in that fourth quarter.

Butler was injured when attempting to score in the lane, his pump fake leading 76ers forward Kelly Oubre to land on his knee, with a foul called on the play. The play was reviewed for a possible flagrant action, but was deemed a common foul.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra commented on the diagnosis for the first time prior to Friday night’s game.

“You can’t explain some of the things,” he said. “It was unfortunate timing. I’ve seen Jimmy make that play a million times, you know, shot fakes, and nothing happened from it. It was tough.

“And I really just commend him and admire him even for just trying to gut it out in the second half, when he was far from 100 percent.”

Center Bam Adebayo said at Friday morning’s shootaround that he is confident Butler will bounce back.

“He’s all right,” Adebayo said. “Jimmy’s going to be Jimmy.”

There also was empathy from the opposing locker room.

“It sucks seeing anyone get hurt, especially him,” Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan said. “You don’t want to see nobody with a major injury or anything.”

Bulls center Nikola Vučević, a long-time Heat rival dating to his time with the 76ers and Orlando Magic, agreed.

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“He’s a tough guy,” he said of Butler. “You never want to have a guy miss games and be injured. We’re all a brotherhood in this league.”

For the Heat, it made Friday seem like so many nights in a season the Heat utilized a franchise-record 35 lineups, breaking the previous record of 31 set in 2014-15, the season that followed LeBron James’ offseason free-agency departure and included Chris Bosh being sidelined by blood clots. In all, the Heat utilized 18 starters this past season, two off the franchise record also set in 2014-15.

“This is pretty much how our season has been going,” Herro said. “The whole year, we’ve had guys in and out of the lineup.”

And again on Friday, with Butler and Terry Rozier out, Rozier for the sixth consecutive game due to what the team listed as neck spasms.

“Thirty-five different starting lineups,” Adebayo said, repeating the total. “That means everybody’s had their opportunity to be in the front line and have the opportunity to go out there and make plays.”

Such, Martin said, has become Heat life.

“We’ve shown it in the past where guys go down, that’s part of the game — guys go down, guys have to step up,” he said. “That’s part of our culture, too.”

Unfriendly confines

After posting a 22-19 home record at Kaseya Center during the regular season, Herro said Friday night’s venue hardly could be assumed as a panacea.

“I mean it definitely feels good to wake up at home,” he said at the morning shootaround. “Our home record isn’t the best this season. But waking up in Miami definitely is a great feeling.”

Robinson available

As was the case immediately prior to Wednesday night’s loss in Philadelphia, Heat guard Duncan Robinson was upgraded from probable to available shortly before Friday night’s game.

Despite being listed as available for the 76ers game, Robinson did not play Wednesday night.

He went into Friday having sat out the previous six games due to a back issue listed as left-facet syndrome.