Caleb Martin’s Triumphant Return: Healing from Injury and Rediscovering Form with the Heat

There were a lot of positive things that happened for the Miami Heat in Thursday’s home win against the Brooklyn Nets. But one of the best things is that forward Caleb Martin finally feels like himself again.
Heat's Erik Spoelstra reveals how Caleb Martin's injury return completely  changes Nets matchup

After missing the previous 10 games because of pain from left knee tendinosis that dates back to offseason workouts, Martin returned to play in Thursday night’s 122-115 win over the Nets at Kaseya Center that marked the Heat’s seventh straight win after a rough 1-4 start to the season.

“It felt good,” Martin said, with the Heat (8-4) now going back on the road to begin a five-game trip on Saturday against the Chicago Bulls at United Center (8 p.m., Bally Sports sun). “I’m just glad to be able to get out there, get running, moving around. The game seems a little fast right now, but I felt like I was picking it up pretty quick, and it was just good to be back out there with the guys, for sure.”
Miami Heat's Caleb Martin discusses his return from injury | Miami Herald

It wasn’t Martin’s usual workload, as he closed Thursday’s win with six points on 2-of-4 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 shooting from three-point range, one rebound and two assists in 12 minutes off the bench. He played on a minutes restriction in his first game back, but he was on the court long enough to remind Heat coaches and teammates how he can help.

“I thought he fit in great,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t think he tried to overdo those 12 minutes. We had a pretty good understanding of what it would look like. He just fits in very seamlessly with how we’ve been playing and that’s on both ends of the court.”

Fitting in was important to Martin in his return because the Heat had been playing so well in his absence. The Heat is currently riding its first seven-game regular-season winning streak since putting together a winning streak that ended at seven games in January 2018.

“You don’t want to come in and step on anybody’s toes,” Martin said of his approach in his first game action in three weeks. “You don’t want to mess up any rhythm. So I’m keeping that in mind. But we got a lot of guys that are so versatile and adjust really well, so I knew it wasn’t going to be too much for those guys to fit me back in. So I was just glad to be able to move around, see a couple shots go in and ultimately win the game.”

Both of Martin’s makes on Thursday were from three-point range, one from the corner off an assist from center Bam Adebayo in the second quarter for his first points of the game and another one from the corner in the fourth quarter. The late-game three was followed by Martin picking up a technical foul for taunting the Nets defender who contested the shot.

“I’m glad I could get him his first three before he got the technical on the other one,” Adebayo said with a laugh. “But it’s good to have him out there. Seeing him on the bench, he looked like a sad puppy waiting to just have his moment. For him to only play 12 minutes, it felt like was just out there just being free, finally getting that chance to really be himself.”
Caleb Martin returns from layoff in stride for Miami Heat

Martin felt more like himself, too, compared to the last time he played. He hardly looked like himself in the only other game he played this season, finishing the Heat’s season-opening win over the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 25 with two points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field in 20 minutes off the bench before missing the next 10 games and then returning on Thursday.

“I definitely felt more like myself today just in terms of getting to my shot, getting into cuts, rotations and that type of stuff,” Martin, 28, said. “Some of the other stuff will get picked back up as I keep playing. But for the most part, I felt a lot better than I did the first time I started.”

Martin spent nearly all 12 of his minutes on Thursday playing in a lineup that was made up of mostly bench players with Josh Richardson, Duncan Robinson, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Adebayo. But Spoelstra made clear after Martin’s return that he will playcom more minutes with the Heat’s starters as he gets more games under his belt in the coming days and weeks.

“He’s just such a quick twitch guy that once he gets into a better rhythm, it’s only going to complement whatever lineup that he plays with,” Spoelstra said. “And he comes in with the second unit, but he’ll play minutes with the starting group, as well. He has a lot of reps with that group. But it’s great to have him back and he feels great. We were able to check that box and we’ll just keep on going.”

In Martin’s return, the Heat went with a bench rotation of Jaquez, Kevin Love, Richardson and Martin in Thursday’s win against the Nets. Dru Smith and Thomas Bryant, who were previously part of Miami bench rotation, did not play with Martin back in the mix.

Martin knows he’s an important part of the Heat’s formula as a key component of its bench. He logged a team-high 218 fourth-quarter minutes during last season’s playoff run and nearly was named the Eastern Conference finals MVP for his breakthrough performance in that series against the Boston Celtics.

Martin, who can become a free agent this upcoming offseason with a $7.1 million player option in his contract for next season, averaged career highs in points (9.6 per game), rebounds (4.8) and assists (1.6) last regular season. He’s ready to again establish himself as an essential member of a deep Heat rotation.

“I didn’t know how long it was exactly going to take,” Martin said of his three weeks away from games. “But I just knew how I was feeling. Something wasn’t right. I’m usually pretty good at fighting through some stuff, fighting through some stuff to get back and play. But I just knew this wasn’t something I could just necessarily fight through because you don’t want to come in and step on toes and not be yourself. So to be able to contribute [Thursday] like that, I think I’ll just keep building on that.”

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