The pain was real, constant, distressing.
The mental aspects mirrored that misery.
As much as Gabe Vincent had been hurting when he missed eight consecutive games with tendinosis in his right knee, the toughest part of the absence, the four-year Miami Heat point guard said, was watching the team play in the void of available players at his position.
Cleared to return, Vincent said he is hopeful of making up for lost time as the Heat look to make up ground in the standings.
“It’s hard to not be present,” Vincent said, with the Heat resuming their post-Christmas schedule Monday night against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. “But it’s hard to see something that you can help and not being able to help. I think that applies to every aspect of life, when you feel like you can help a situation but you’re not able to. It’s difficult.”
Compounding matters was that while Vincent was out, starting point guard Kyle Lowry missed four games, third-string point guard Dru Smith was released from his two-way contract in favor of depth at center, and Victor Oladipo only was beginning his ramp back up from preseason knee pain.
“It was weird. It was weird, honestly,” Vincent admitted. “Even if you go back to the end of last season, when Kyle was out and I was playing a lot, we had kind of flip-flopped at the beginning of this season. And then we had moments when we both were out. It’s just concerning in general, when you look at our injury list.”
For Vincent, the decision was made in concert with the team’s medical staff to take an extended break in order to attempt to put the knee pain in his rearview mirror, after twice previously returning from the same knee issue only to miss more time.
“It’s tough to try to stay mentally locked in on everything going on, to focus on yourself and get healthy,” he said.
So Vincent accepted the lost time as a way to now make steady gains.
“Because that’s the best way you can help your team at that point in time,” he said. “But you have to keep in mind the big picture. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s hard to play one game and sit two or three. It doesn’t help the team the best way. It doesn’t help yourself the best way.
“So you try to keep that in mind and fight your better nature of when to compete and when to make sure that you’re good for the long run. So the time was necessary. It was needed. So see how it goes.”
At his best, Vincent is a two-way, playoff-level contributor, as he showed in last season’s playoffs, particularly in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young.
At less than his best, the contributions can be limited, having shot .297 on 3-pointers this season as part of .390 overall shooting prior to his eight-game absence.
Now it’s not only about regaining his previous stride, but also again taking flight, having remained behind during recent trips.
“The flights had given me some issues,” he said, with the Heat to depart Thursday to Denver for the start of a five-game western swing. “So in theory they shouldn’t have been a problem. But I figured, let’s eliminate that factor entirely. And I think it was beneficial for me and my health and my return, just making sure I was getting prepared and ready to get back.”
So time lost, but also the opportunity to now make up for lost time.
“I think everyone in the NBA is playing through something,” he said. “I think as a young player, on a quote, unquote, rookie contact, you try to be on the court as much as possible and take every opportunity you can. But I think it had just gotten to a point where I couldn’t fully be myself, and I couldn’t fully give the team what they needed out of me. So we came together and made a decision on what we thought would be best.”