After nearly a 13 month absence due to ankle surgery, guard Dion Waiters has returned to the Miami Heat rotation. In his first game back against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Waiters logged 10 minutes and scored just seven points, but Waiters’ presence alone seemed to give the Heat a boost. Waiters is one of the teams most skilled scorers, and his return could spark another memorable mid-season run.
On January 4, 2017, nearly two years to the day of Waiters’ return this season, Waiters made his first return from an ankle injury. In his first game back, Waiters, just like January 2nd, 2019’s game against the Cavaliers, played just 10 minutes. Waiters was restricted during his first three games after his return, playing 15 minutes per game, before finally returning to the starting lineup. Five games after his return, the Heat went on a run that saved the season.
The Heat won 13 straight games, with Waiters starting the first 11 games, scoring 20.6 points per game and playing 32.3 minutes per game before his ankle injury flared up again. Waiters was the team’s leading scorer during the win streak and was clutch on multiple occasions, including a game-winning three pointer he hit against the Golden State Warriors.
Despite missing 19 games in his first season with the Heat, Waiters became a leader for the team and became a direct source of confidence for everyone.
Now, 13 months removed from the game, there is a similar feel to Waiters’ return. The Heat have won seven of their last nine games and are playing their best basketball. Waiters is back and more confident than ever, which looks to be a sign of another long-winded hot streak.
During the game, Waiters, also known as “Philly Cheese” or “Headache”, immediately changed the course of the game with his appearance. Waiters entered the game midway through the second quarter with the Heat leading 37-33. By the time halftime hit, the Heat were in full control with a 58-43 lead, with Waiters quickly scoring all seven of his points and also adding two assists and a rebound.
After his first game back, Waiters reiterated his happiness to be back on the court, but he is hungry to show what he is capable of doing. Before his return, back in December, Waiters gave an example of just how confident he is.
“I know I’m better than a lot of these guys in the motherf****ng league. I only gave y’all a taste. I know I can do more,” Waiters said.
Waiters might be a bit irritated with his lack of playing time, but as he continues to get back into the flow, his minutes are only going to increase. While he may not get as many minutes as quickly as he did in 2017’s precursor to the Heat’s run due to the fact he underwent surgery rather than non-surgical treatment, Waiters will be back in full form soon.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra was just as happy to have Waiters back and noted the different skills he brings to the table offensively.
“I like Dion. He was really able to help that unit and you can see what he brings. He has an ability to get into the paint, break a defense down even if they have bodies initially there, and he was able to do that a little bit,” Spoelstra said.
As Waiters continues to progress on the floor, the benefits the team will reap as a whole will be apparent. Unlike the team from 2016-17, the Heat are 18-18, rather than the 11-30 record they posted prior to their 13-game win streak, which makes a run that much more likely.
The Heat next play on Friday against the Washington Wizards. Through the team’s final 13 games of January, the Heat play just five teams with a winning record, and three of those games will be at home.
Eventually, Waiters will be back in the starting lineup, re-assuming the role he previously had as one of the teams go-to scorers. When Waiters is back to being his usual self, the Heat could be primed to make another incredible run.