The Miami Heat were without starting shooting guard Tyler Herro and starting power forward Caleb Martin against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night for the final stop of their five-game trip.
Herro was scratched due to back spasms, a late move after taking pregame treatment.
Martin was out after he aggravated previous quadriceps and ankle injuries in Wednesday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
For the Heat, Martin’s ailments are more of an ongoing concern, with coach Erik Spoelstra stressing that Martin remains a vital component to the starting lineup in in his undersized role in the frontcourt alongside Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.
“His versatility is vital to our group,” Spoelstra said of the 6-foot-5 Martin. “Night after night after night, he’s taking on all the different kinds of challenges that this league can present, whether he’s guarding the small, super-quick guys, or whether he’s switching on to centers. And he has great instincts for deflections and steals.
“Our defense always just seems to be a whole lot more active and fast when he’s out on the court. He’s a playmaker out there, which really truly fits with Jimmy and Bam.”
The goal remains to have Martin playing as a stretch four. In his first two games back from the quad strain, Martin shot a combined 1 of 5 on 3-pointers in the win over the Los Angeles Clippers and the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. All the while, the quad remained problematic.
“He’s a great spot-up 3-point shooter,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat concluding their five-game trip Friday night against the Suns at Footprint Center. “I always feel like I’m reminding him, ‘Hey, don’t forget you’re a great shooter.’
“I watch in practice now for a year and a half. When he gets his feet and he has time, he’s as good as anybody out there. So that also helps with us, as well. And he’s really continuing to improve with his dribble-handoff game, getting us to second actions, and helping other guys get open shots.”
The Heat arrived in Phoenix with the Suns still in a holding pattern with former Heat forward Jae Crowder, who has remained away from the team since the preseason seeking a better-defined role elsewhere.
The Heat have been linked to interest in Crowder, which appears to be reciprocal, but the Suns’ asking price has remained problematic seemingly for the entire NBA.
So in the wake of P.J. Tucker, last season’s starting power forward, leaving for the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency, Martin has started each of the games he has been available.
“He’s getting a whole lot more comfortable in his role,” Spoelstra said of the fourth-year veteran who, even with his missed time, leads the Heat in charges taken.
The Heat have until 5 p.m. Saturday to decide whether to guarantee the contract of forward Haywood Highsmith for the balance of the season
Highsmith, the lone member of the Heat roster without a guaranteed contract, would jump from about $800,000 in previous guarantees to his full $1.8 million for 2022-23.
Based on the way Spoelstra has both utilized Highsmith, including four starts, and spoken of the third-year forward, it appears to be a decision already made.
“He’s continuing to grow before our eyes,” Spoelstra said. “He’s gaining confidence in his role. He’s disciplined to his role on both ends of the court. Defensively? Yes, he can do a lot of things — he can switch, he can play bigger guys, he can play in our zone. And then offensively, he’s just getting so much more comfortable and confident in his role — as a screener, as a spacer, as a secondary dribble-handoff guy.
“And he’s gaining the confidence of his teammates, as well. That’s definitely a positive and a highlight.”
The NBA’s formal guarantee deadline is Monday, but players must first clear the 48-hour waiver period if released.
In addition to the remainder of this season, Highsmith also has a $1.9 million non-guaranteed final season in 2023-24 on the three-year deal signed last season.
Highsmith started Friday night in place of Martin.