After what he called a “brutal” ankle injury way back on Feb. 5, Meyers Leonard is finally back in the Miami Heat starting lineup.
And in the NBA Finals.
“Jae Crowder joked with me last night,” Leonard said via telephone Monday morning, “Dude, you went from zero to one hundred. Like, you went from not playing for basically eight months to starting in the NBA Finals.”
It took a shoulder injury to Bam Adebayo to boost the former Trail Blazer back into the starting lineup, but he is making a contribution in limited minutes.
Sunday, in Miami’s Game 3 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Leonard played 13 minutes, scored seven points, going 3-3 from the field, was a plus-13 and his team had a defensive rating of 68 per 100 possessions.
Leonard loves his situation in Miami.
The detail-oriented, regimented system of Erik Spoelstra in Miami is perfect for Leonard.
“Everything matters here,” he said. “My communication, what I’ve always done -- now it’s being a little bit more embraced and appreciated. I have a voice in the locker room, too. And that feels good.”
ABC put a mic on Leonard for Sunday’s game, most likely because he is always animated in his communication with teammates, whether he’s in the game or on the sidelines.
“I thought it might be intrusive but once the game starts, you don’t even notice it,” he said.
Leonard’s seven seasons in Portland were controversial in many ways. Fans, in the beginning, were not on board with his three-point shooting. They'd say, “get in there under the basket where you belong,” but Leonard proved to be a little ahead of the trend in regard to big men shooting from the outside.
He also became a bit of a whipping boy for coaches, talk-show hosts in addition to fans as he bobbed in and out of lineups. Because of his seeming hesitation to shoot open shots, he drew criticism.
But he feels valued in Miami for what he brings to his team. That was enforced during a nasty Heat loss and after a mistake, rather than a good play and a win.
“Kind of a random story,” he recalled. “It was our worst loss of the season, against Washington. They’re not even playing Brad Beal. I’m supposed to blitz out of a timeout and I don’t. We’re standing at the foul line and ‘Spo’ snaps on me from behind.
“‘How in the hell are you going to mess up this coverage when I’m counting on you as our communicator to know everything that is going on, out on the court at all times?’
“I think all I did was nod at him. And I think I said, ‘My bad.’
“At that moment, I was so damn thankful he did that, because that means he counts on me and I’m needed.”
Did that happen in Portland?
“Not often -- which is somewhat on me,” he said.
Leonard suffered his ankle injury before the COVID-19 hiatus and then faced a difficult rehab without being able to use the team’s closed training facility.
“Let’s just say I sprained about everything there is down there," Leonard said describing the injury. "I was doing my damn best at home with my ankle rehab and listening to everything they asked me to do, but there’s nothing like hands-on treatment, day after day after day, from trained professionals.”
Still, when the league restarted in Orlando, he still wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
“About 10 days ago, when Elle (his wife) got to the bubble, she said she couldn’t even watch those regular-season games because when I left the house she was scared. She knew I wasn’t ready. I told everybody I was ready but I knew in my heart I wasn’t ready.
“The good news is that I’m almost back to 100 percent. But Game 2 (his first Finals start) was a real shock to my body. You can practice, but there’s nothing you can do to get ready to go against Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis.”
Leonard is now dealing with the Finals grind with “a lot of caffeine and a lot of film.” And happy be with the Heat -- and Spoelstra.
“Every coach is different,” he said. “And I’m simply speaking about ‘Spo’ -- not Terry (Stotts). The passion and intensity and each individual game plan, regular season included, every single game-- it’s amazing how detailed and dialed in everything is.
“It’s always changing, but there’s always an expectation of perfection. Even in a walk-through ‘Spo’ might snap. But i love it. It’s not for everybody, but I’m ok with it.
“Certain people are built for it. It’s just who we are. He constantly talks about habits. Doing it right every time. Do it correctly.
“That’s a fact. I feel it when I’m out there, I’m the backline on defense. I use my voice. I don’t care that I got only one rebound last night. Go watch the film -- we got the rebound.
“Stuff is moving a million miles an hour. Whatever helps my team win, I’m going to do it. The habits-- we started like 360 or 370 days ago. But we have those habits.”