The Kyle Lowry Watch has entered a different stage for the Miami Heat, no longer measured by the hourly injury reports issued by the NBA.
Instead, after an aborted return following a pair of uneven games, it may well be more a case of week-to-week, with Lowry again listed as out for Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Initially straining his left hamstring April 22 in the Heat’s Game 3 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, Lowry returned two weeks later in a pair of road losses to the 76ers in these Eastern Conference semifinals.
Then, Sunday, the hamstring acted up again. Now the earliest return would be Sunday, if there either is a Game 7 against the 76ers or a possible start to the Eastern Conference finals. There also is a chance with a Heat victory Thursday at Wells Fargo Center that the Heat would not play again until Tuesday.
For now, there is the confidence of the 5-0 run with Gabe Vincent as fill-in playoff starter, and the emergence of Victor Oladipo as a reliable option at backup point guard.
“I feel like we’ve been practicing that all year long with guys in and out of the rotation, in and out of the lineup,” forward Jimmy Butler said, with the Heat 17-7 in Lowry’s absence this season. “It’s always that next-man-up mentality.”
In his first season under a standard contract, after two with the Heat on two-way contracts, Vincent, 25, continues to thrive as a universal donor.
“Gabe’s probably the most selfless dude,” power forward P.J. Tucker said. “I mean that dude like goes from starting, playing 30 minutes, to not subbing in. Like he’s been through it all. Like he literally has been placed in every position on this team, throughout the year, to get ready and has the same attitude every day, gives the same effort every day. Like he’s unreal, one of my favorite teammates.
“So to see him be able to go from not playing and Kyle being hurt again and being out, to starting and giving us everything he does, it’s amazing.”
Vincent closed with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in Tuesday’s 120-85 Game 5 victory that put the Heat up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series that continues with Thursday’s Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center.
“He’s just solid through everything,” guard Max Strus said. “That’s the only way I can put it.”
With the move of Vincent into the starting lineup, it also has cleared a runway for Oladipo to play as backup point guard.
“For our team,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, “his versatility just really fits. His ability to guard multiple positions but also be able to organize a little bit, have that kind of experience and talent when Kyle is out, that could be devastating to some teams.
“We have a lot of other guys that have been able to step up and Vic is one of them.”
Oladipo is coming off a 13-point performance in Game 5.
With Oladipo as the playmaker with the second unit, it also has proven liberating for Tyler Herro, who again gets to focus more on his scoring skill set.
“Vic, in this role without Kyle, allows Tyler to still be Tyler,” Spoelstra said. “That’s very important to our team.”
The Heat again have listed several players as questionable, with all expected to play Thursday: Herro (ankle sprain), Caleb Martin (ankle sprain), Strus (hamstring), Tucker (calf strain) and Vincent (knee irritation).
As for the 76ers, their injury report lists three players as questionable: Joel Embiid (facial fracture/right thumb sprain), Matisse Thybulle (left foot soreness) and Isaiah Joe (right ankle sprain).