Heat send Justise Winslow home to see back specialist, and they're feeling his defensive absence more and more

The Miami Heat announced on Sunday that Justise Winslow had been sent home early from the team's current road trip -- which concluded with a 124-121 loss to the Knicks -- to see a specialist about his back injury that continues to bother him. 

"We wanted to get him back and have him visit our medical staff and we'll have more information when we get back to Miami," Erik Spoelstra said, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald

Sidelined since the first week of December -- a span of 15 games -- with what was originally diagnosed as a pretty straightforward back strain, then subsequently reclassified as a more serious bone bruise, Winslow tried to return against the Pacers on Wednesday. He went 0 for 2 from the field in 16 minutes, but continued to feel discomfort after the game. 

Until suffering two straight losses to the Nets and Knicks to close this road trip, the Heat had fared well record wise in Winslow's absence, going 11-4 in the games he missed since Dec. 4. All told the Heat are 27-12 for the season, with the loss at New York Sunday dropping them behind Boston and into the East's No. 3 spot. 

Assuming Winslow is able to return healthy at some point this season, he will be a big jolt for a defense that has begun to slide a bit. Through Sunday, Miami has fallen to the No. 13-ranked defense in the league, and in the time that Winslow has been out it is ranked 21st in the league. Winslow represents another versatile athlete who can guard 1-4, and when healthy is right there with Jimmy Butler as the team's best 1-on-1 perimeter stopper. 

Winslow's defensive absence, should it get that far, would mean even more in the playoffs than it does right now. Two potential Heat matchups in the second round are the Celtics and Sixers. Winslow has a playoff history of making life difficult on Ben Simmons, and you can't have enough perimeter defenders against the Celtics when you're trying to chase around Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward

Winslow is also an improved offensive threat who expressed his desire to serve as the Heat's point guard prior to the season. The Heat don't pay much attention to conventional positioning, but Winslow, an improved shooter, is yet another capable pick-and-roll playmaker and secondary creator. He's is in the second year of a three-year, $39 million deal. 

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