Clippers visit Heat in matchup of short-handed teams

NBA

“Depleted” is a word that applies to both the Miami Heat and the visiting Los Angeles Clippers going into their Thursday night matchup.

The Clippers, who lost to the host Atlanta Hawks 108-99 on Tuesday, were without their two biggest stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, because of health and safety protocols. In addition, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley missed the game due to right knee soreness.

Miami, which lost 109-82 to the visiting Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night, also played short-handed. The Heat were without three key players: Jimmy Butler (COVID-19 protocols), Tyler Herro (neck) and Goran Dragic (groin).

Butler, a five-time All-Star, has missed nine straight games but was on the sideline on Wednesday and is nearing a return. Wednesday was the first time in more than two weeks that he was allowed to be with the team.

“It was great to see everybody,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in a question about Butler’s presence, “even though everybody wasn’t available.”

Herro, Miami’s second-leading scorer, was a game-time decision on Wednesday and could possibly return on Thursday.

Dragic missed his third game of the season and joined Meyers Leonard (shoulder) on the injured list. Leonard has started two of the three games he has played this season.

The good news for Miami, however, was that Avery Bradley (COVID-19 protocols) returned for his first action since Jan. 9. He scored eight points, making 3 of 6 shots, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Even though we came up short,” Bradley said, “it felt great to be back out there.”

The matchup with the Clippers is the second of six straight home games for Miami. The Heat have lost four in a row overall.

Los Angeles’ defeat to Atlanta marked the start of a six-game road trip.

“It’s tough,” Clippers center Ivica Zubac said of the team playing short-handed. “It’s just how this year is going to go for everyone. We’re not the exception.

“We’ve been lucky to have everyone available (prior to Tuesday). We’ve got to adjust.”

The Clippers are getting impressive production from Kawhi Leonard, who is averaging team highs in points (25.9 per game), assists (5.7) and steals (2.0). George is second in points (23.9), rebounds (6.2) and assists (5.4). Nobody else on the team is averaging more than 12.4 points, leaving the Clippers very … well, depleted.

“Hopefully they can get back and join the team soon,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said of the missing stars.

In the meantime, the Clippers will look to players such as Terance Mann, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard.

Mann, a second-round pick in 2019, made his seventh career start and his first of the season on Tuesday. He scored 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, including 1-for-3 on 3-point attempts, and grabbed nine rebounds.

Jackson had team highs in points (20) and assists (eight). The veteran guard is a proven scorer, and the Clippers likely will rely on him against the Heat.

Kennard, the former Duke star who was Detroit’s first-round pick (12th overall) in 2017, averaged a career-high 15.8 points last season. He scored 13 points on Tuesday in his fourth start of the season.

–Field Level Media

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