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Heat’s Morris back after four-month absence

MIAMI — Miami Heat forward Markieff Morris was cleared to play Saturday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves following a four-month absence because of a whiplash injury.

Morris was injured in a Nov. 8 scuffle with Denver’s Nikola Jokic. He missed 58 games.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game that Morris had been practicing with the team “for a long time, and he’s ready.”

“We’re all excited about it and I’m excited for him,” Spoelstra said. “This has been a tedious process and it’s taken longer than everybody anticipated, but these are things you can’t necessarily control.”

One of the final steps in the process toward a return came this week when Morris’ case was heard by the NBA’s Fitness-to-Play Panel, consisting of three physicians who determine if a player is, as described by the league’s collective bargaining agreement, “medically able and medically fit to practice and play.”

The scuffle came late in that Nov. 8 game, shortly after the Heat ire was raised when no call was made after they thought Jokic fouled Miami center Bam Adebayo. Morris stopped play a few seconds later by intentionally crashing into Jokic from the side, a foul that referees called flagrant.

Jokic then blindsided Morris with a hard shove from behind. Heat players were livid at what they perceived to be a cheap shot from Jokic, who conceded afterward that it was “a stupid play.”

Jokic was suspended one game for the shove. Morris – who was signed by Miami this past offseason to a one-year, $2.6 million deal – was fined $50,000 for his role in the incident

Morris averaged 7.7 points in 18.7 minutes per game off Miami’s bench in 10 appearances this season before getting hurt. For his career, Morris – who won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020, a championship that came against Miami – has averaged 11 points over stints with six teams.

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