Celtics-Heat preview: ‘Not making excuses' with key players out


BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have made this “next man up” thing look easy.

All-Stars, role players, it hasn’t really mattered.

The Boston Celtics have consistently found ways to win, even if it has meant going with a less-than-ideal lineup and rotation.

Boston (26-7) faces a Miami Heat team tonight that knows all too well how challenging it is to win games with key guys sidelined.

The Heat (15-15) come into tonight’s game without Hassan Whiteside (left knee) and James Johnson (ankle), neither traveling with the team for their two-game road trip that ends tonight in Boston.

Miami’s Goran Dragic (left elbow) and Justise Winslow (left knee strain), both out for Miami’s 110-104 loss at Atlanta, are questionable for tonight.

But Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, similar to Boston’s Brad Stevens when having to play with key players out, has a simple philosophy when it comes to playing at less than full strength.

“It starts with the mentality of not feeling sorry for yourself and not making excuses,” Spoelstra told reporters. “This is the league and it’s not for the meek. Things happen. Every team goes through some stretch like this, if not more, during the course of the season.”

He’s right.

The Celtics are going through that now to some extent.

They have played all but the first five minutes of the season without All-Star Gordon Hayward. And one of the players Boston was counting on to help fill the void left by Hayward’s season-ending ankle injury, Marcus Morris, has been dealing with left knee soreness all season.

It has led to the six-year veteran missing 17 games this season, which is more than he missed in his first five seasons combined.

Their absences have led to more lineup and rotation juggling for Stevens.

But he has been consistent in seeing this as an opportunity for some players to see action, that otherwise would not play as much if at all.

Rookie Semi Ojeleye has been among the Celtics players to have an increased opportunity to play due to the team’s injuries.

“You never want to see any teammate go down or anything like that,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “But it is a chance for me to play more, and my focus whether it’s practice or a game, remains the same. I want to defend, rebound and help us win.”

And while the play of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford has been instrumental in Boston’s success this season, the Celtics have also benefited from the contributions o role players such as Ojeleye.

“That’s one of the things I love about this team,” Celtics rookie Daniel Theis told NBC Sports Boston recently. “Everybody wants to do whatever they can to win for the team.”

Spoelstra sees the need for a similar mindset for his players as well.

“It’s going to take a collective effort more than ever right now,” Spoelstra said. “Not any one guy is going to be able to do it by themselves.”

Which is why this "next man up" stuff isn't quite as easy as some teams like the Boston Celtics, make it look. 


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