MIAMI — Even with Miami starting shooting guard Tyler Johnson and primary backup Wayne Ellington out with injuries, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he will not insert Dwyane Wade into the opening lineup.
Spoelstra wants Wade, a 12-time NBA All-Star now on the down side of his basketball career, to get comfortable in his role as the igniter of the Heat’s second team.
Wade, who essentially played that role in 2008 when he helped Team USA win Olympic gold, is fine with Spoelstra’s plan.
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“It’s not weird,” Wade said. “I came off the bench for a long time before you all knew who I was. My ego is not too big, especially at this point. I am 36 years old.
“These guys (Johnson, Josh Richardson and others) are the future of this organization. I am definitely not the future. I am cool with that. I have done a lot of work. To be able to come off the bench, play 20 to 25 minutes and help this team win — that is what I am cool with at this point in my career.”
The Heat (33-30), who play host to the Phoenix Suns (19-46) on Monday night, have the same plan for Wade, who had a two-game stretch last week in which he combined for 52 points off the bench.
In other words, he can still be very effective, even in shorter minutes. Miami needs that type of productivity as it starts its playoff push.
The Heat open Monday’s games in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks.
Miami should have a relatively easy time against Phoenix, which is 10-22 on the road after a heartbreaking 113-112 loss at the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon.
Atlanta’s Taurean Prince sank the Suns with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left in the game. Devin Booker’s potential winning baseline jumper for the Suns bounced off the rim as time expired.
“I got the shot I wanted,” Booker told the media. “I picked a point on the floor. I got to it, but I just missed.”
Despite the loss and the poor record, the Suns have some standout performers.
Booker, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, scored 30 points in four straight games — the longest such streak by a Suns player since Amare Stoudemire in 2004 — a streak that was snapped Sunday when he scored 20. Booker, 21, joins LeBron James and Kevin Durant as the three youngest NBA players to score 4,000 career points.
Another Suns standout is TJ Warren, a 6-8 forward who scored 35 points against Atlanta. Warren, 24, is averaging 19.5 points, second on the team to Booker’s 25.2 average.
Suns point guard Elfrid Payton, a 24-year-old acquired from the Orlando Magic before the trade deadline, is averaging 17.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists. He produced a triple-double against Atlanta on Sunday with 11 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high 14 assists.
In addition, the Suns got veteran center Tyson Chandler back from a neck injury. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year had missed six games. Chandler, 35, is averaging 6.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the twilight of his career.
Miami’s starting lineup is powered by point guard Goran Dragic, who leads the team in scoring (17.4) and assists (4.9). Center Hassan Whiteside is averaging 13.9 points and leads the team in rebounds (12.0) and blocked shots (1.7).