Coming as a surprise in the latest Miami Heat game, Wayne Ellington was a member of the starting lineup. After either logging a couple of garbage time minutes or not playing in games at all, the Man with the Golden Arm saw his first meaningful basketball minutes in over 20 games. It was a calf injury to Tyler Johnson that opened that spot in the starting five.
Ellington, in due time, showed why there is no reason he should be at the end of the bench. He finished the game with 19 points and a rebound on 6-for-13 shooting from the field. Moreover, it was the first time since a December 2 win over the Utah Jazz he played over 30 minutes.
Johnson’s absence should not be lengthy, as his calf issue is not considered too serious. But in this same game against the Knicks, Derrick Jones Jr. went down with two right knee bone bruises. It was a scary sight for Heat fans, most of whom love the energy Jones brings off the bench. He will be re-evaluated in six weeks and the team will then release a return timetable. In the meantime, there seems to be a hole in Coach Spoelstra’s nine-man rotation. Could Ellington be the one to hold Jones Jr.’s spot until he makes his way back?
Not Playing is Frustrating
Ellington has only played in 23 out of the Heat’s 48 games this season. He averaged 27 minutes through his first 15 games this year, but only 11 minutes ever since. As a deep-range marksman who can shoot both stand-still and off the dribble, not getting playing time should be frustrating when you know you can contribute on any NBA team. The 6-foot-5 guard has unfortunately found himself in a roster filled with young, good players. That has not left many minutes for him.
“It’s a tough situation,” Ellington told Fox Sports’ Jason Jackson after beating the Knicks. “I’ve said it before, it’s a tough job. We have a lot of guys that can play, can contribute. And we all play similar positions. It’s a tough situation. And if we can figure out how to use that depth to our, strength, to our advantage, that would be a great outcome.”
Getting to that point is a matter of experimenting with different combinations. With so many things head coach Erik Spoelstra has tried, it is frustrating for Ellington to just sit and watch from the bench. “In different nights, it could cause frustration. That’s just the reality of it.” Still, he acknowledged it is a team effort and how everybody works hard for the team. “We got guys that are going to work, put the work in no matter what. So, whatever happens, will happen, and guys are going to continue to grind.”
Spoelstra has been very vocal on how hard it is for him not to be able to play Ellington. The 28th pick in the 2009 Draft certainly appreciates Spo’s efforts and understands the matter. “It means a lot,” Ellington said referring to Spoelstra’s stance. “Like I said, it’s been a rough situation. Sometimes it’s hard to understand, sometimes you don’t see the light. […] And I’m glad [Spoelstra] had the fit for me to, you know, fit me back right back in the mix tonight, throw me in the fire. It was tough in the first half, obviously, I needed to find a rhythm. But then in the second half I said, “heck with it,” I’m just going to shoot myself back into rhythm, figure it out from there.” And then he did.
Second Half Heroics
His comeback game was nothing short of amazing. He had a rough start in the first half, going scoreless. The Knicks led by six points at halftime, and the Heat desperately needed an offensive spark. Ellington provided it, leading all scorers in the second half. He scored eight straight points with under four minutes left in the game. That one-man run eventually allowed Miami to get some separation and operate calmly as they got closer to the final buzzer and picked up a victory.
The former University of North Carolina star said it was nice to have a bounce-back game like this one. “It feels amazing, feels good, especially after the circumstances. Being able to get out there, contribute to a win, knock some shots down, especially right here in the Garden, in the Mecca of Basketball. It’s a story right there by itself.”
While he started his first game in almost two months, he did not really know if he would start, or even play, in the Garden. “This morning at shootaround I was getting reps with the starters,” said Ellington. “I still wasn’t sure, I don’t know if Spo was sure. I think he probably was going back and forth, on what he was going to do. And then this evening when I got here to the Garden, he shot me a text and gave me that go ahead. I was already locked in, just in case, but then when I got the text I was able to get my mind right. I didn’t do anything different physically, just mentally.”