Injuries to Valanciunas, Whiteside loom large for small ball


MIAMI — Following injuries to Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside during Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra joked that the game’s final minutes looked “like a 6’4″ and under game.”

Perhaps we should get used to it. On Sunday, the Heat announced Whiteside would be day-to-day with a sprained MCL in his right knee. Minutes later, the Raptors announced Valanciunas would miss the rest of the series with a high ankle sprain.

While the Raptors hold a 2-1 series lead going into Game 4, the series has been close throughout — the first two games were both decided in overtime, and each of the three games has been decided by six points or less. Each team has had a chance to win each game down the stretch, which is really all you can ask for.

Yet with four games left in this series, the tenor of the series may have changed for good.

Valanciunas sprained his right ankle during the third quarter of Game 3 and missed most of the second half. Valanciunas averaged 19.5 ppg and 13 rpg in Games 1 and 2, and before his injury in Game 3, he had posted 16 points and 12 rebounds in 22 minutes. Immediately following Game 3, Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Valanciunas would be day-to-day for the rest of the series, but an MRI on Sunday changed Valanciunas’s status. The Raptors lost Valanciunas for a month earlier in the season and went 11–6 in his absence.

“It’s a big one for us, because [Valanciunas] was having a great series, great playoffs,” Toronto GM Masai Ujiri said Sunday at practice. “Big, big blow for us, and a big blow for JV. You feel for the kid. I just met with him, and it’s tough on him, tough on his teammates, but this is life in the NBA, and we carry on.”

Whiteside injured his right knee with 10:54 remaining in the second quarter. Whiteside had previously suffered a right knee strain in Game 1 of the series, but through the first two games had averaged 11 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks in just over 39 minutes of action.

“We’re going to list [Whiteside] as day-to-day,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “But where my mind was, where Hassan’s mind was leaving this building last night, that’s probably the best news we could have. So, he’s day-to-day, he’s going to be getting treatment and a lot of rest.”

With Valanciunas out for the remainder of the series, and Whiteside likely to miss time as well, the series will probably go smaller, if not outright small. Toronto will rely on Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola to fill their Valanciunas void, while Miami will look to Josh McRoberts and Udonis Haslem to take minutes in the middle.

“I think you’ll see more hard shows with [Haslem] and [McRoberts], and they’ll show a lot more and switch a lot, because they’re mobile bigs,” said Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, who finished Game 3 with 33 points. “That’s what I think, but who knows? [Game 4] will be a different game. We’re prepared for all situations and all things that could possibly happen.”

According to Miami’s Dwyane Wade, who scored a season high 38 points in Game 3, the change in personnel won’t alter his approach.

“I’m going to be who I am,” Wade said Sunday at Heat practice. “I’m an aggressive guy. I’m a shooting guard in this league. I know how to score the basketball. Some nights it’s going to go in, some nights it’s not. But ain’t no pressure. I’ll play about the same amount of minutes, I’ll get my usage and my touches that I always get. But the style of play — the lobs — that changes. But the load doesn’t change.”

“This is a highly competitive series. It’s 287-285 right now,” said Spoelstra, referencing the aggregate point totals through three games. “There’s a lot of different storylines out there, but I don’t think either team has figured out either team. We’re just trying to figure out ways to get it done.”

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