PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — With Jimmy Butler sidelined by injury and Kyle Lowry ejected in the first half, Max Strus’ return came at an opportune time for the Miami Heat.
Strus had 25 points and the Heat snapped a two-game losing streak with a 115-109 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night despite Butler’s absence. Lowry’s ejection left the already short-handed Heat with nine players for the rest of the game.
Strus, who had seven 3-pointers, was making his return after missing four games because of the league’s COVID-19 protocols. He finished with six rebounds and five assists.
“The shooting I’m not really worried about, obviously, off for seven, eight days,” Strus said. “But I was more worried about my conditioning and just the pace of play, just getting back up to speed, but it only took me a couple of possessions and I felt right back to where I was before I was out.”
Miami led by 19 points, but the Trail Blazers narrowed the gap in the third quarter and pulled within 83-80 entering the final period.
Dennis Smith Jr. hit a layup for the Blazers to tie it at 90 with 9:41 left. The Heat responded with a 15-2 run to go up 105-92.
“Max got hot and was hitting some tough 3s, hit a bank-shot 3. Those plays are deflating, especially when you’re working so hard to get stops,” said Norman Powell, who finished with 26 points for Portland.
The teams tussled in the final minute after an altercation between Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic and Miami’s Tyler Herro. Both were ejected.
Herro finished with 16 points off the bench.
Portland was led by Anfernee Simons with 28 points, including five 3-pointers.
Butler, who leads the Heat with an average of 23.2 points per game, sprained his ankle Monday in the third quarter of a 115-108 loss at Golden State.
Portland was without star guard Damian Lillard because of lower abdominal tendinopathy. Lillard also sat out Portland 136-131 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday and will be unavailable for two upcoming games this weekend.
The Trail Blazers said Lillard — who is averaging 24 points and 7.3 assists — is undergoing further evaluation of the injury, which has bothered him since the Tokyo Olympics.
Lillard was replaced in the lineup for the second straight game by Simons, who had a career-high 43 points against the Hawks. The win snapped a four-game losing streak.
The Heat still have three players in coronavirus protocols: Marcus Garrett, Udonis Haslem and Gabe Vincent. Duncan Robinson rejoined the Heat in Portland after clearing protocols, leaving Miami at 5 a.m. local time on Wednesday.
Robinson hit a 3-pointer that put Miami up 30-21 late in the opening quarter.
The Heat led 19 points during the first half and went into the break up 58-47. Portland closed within 70-63 in the third quarter after Simons’ 3-pointer. Powell’s 3 got the Blazers even closer at 74-71.
Simons had 20 points in the third quarter alone.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra addressed Lowry’s ejection after the game.
“Kyle’s extremely passionate, I don’t know what exactly he said,” Spoelstra said. “You just hope that you can manage the game, keep the talent out there. The fans are paying money to see everybody play, and everybody’s a little bit stressed out right now. It takes great emotional management. I haven’t gotten an explanation yet about it, but it was pretty intense then in the first half.”
Heat: Spoelstra said he was encouraged by Duncan’s return: “You just feel a sense that guys are getting healthier.” … It was the fourth game of a six-game road trip. … Herro started in Lowry’s place in the second half.
Trail Blazers: Larry Nance Jr. was briefly in the league’s health and safety protocols after an inconclusive COVID-19 test, but he was cleared before the game and started. … Nance left in the third quarter with a right knee injury and did not return. Blazers coach Chauncey Billups did not have an update on his status following the game.
The Heat visit the Phoenix Suns on Saturday.
The Trail Blazers host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.
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