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Out vs. Denver, Heat’s Herro forges through injury, rumors, role change. He offers insight

Tyler Herro was dressed and ready to play in this downtown Denver arena last June, waiting for a coach’s call that never came. The NBA Finals ended that night, with Herro medically cleared to play but his coach opting not to inject him into the cauldron of a series-deciding game after nearly two months on the shelf with a broken hand.

Herro returned to Denver again hobbled on Thursday, this time with a hyperextended left knee that had him sidelined for Thursday’s Finals rematch. Initially listed as questionable for Thursday’s game, Herro was downgraded to out at midday Thursday.

If the NBA distributed awards for adversity, Herro’s mantle would be full.

There was the agony of breaking his hand in the playoff opener against Milwaukee, on a hustle play diving to the floor, and not being able to participate in last season’s run to the NBA Finals.

There was the anxiety of a summer of rumors, of being constantly linked to a trade for Damian Lillard, one that never gained legs because of Portland’s disinterest.

There was the disappointment of the early season ankle injury that torpedoed an exceptional start and cost him 18 games.

There was the seven-game losing streak where Herro essentially replaced the since-jettisoned Kyle Lowry as the Heat scapegoat target on social media, at least for a couple of weeks before that criticism subsided.

There was the foot right discomfort that irritated him coming out of the All-Star, and now the knee injury sustained late on Friday in New Orleans, leaving him sidelined for wins in Sacramento and Portland.

Along the way, he acquiesced to requests from the coaches to shoot more threes and fewer midrange shots. He adjusted his shot diet based on whether Jimmy Butler was playing or not.

And while conceding he preferred the substitution pattern from earlier in the season, he cheerfully accepted Erik Spoelstra’s rotation tweaks that recently left him on the bench to start the fourth quarter.

Amid the trade drama, injuries and other issues, say this for Herro: He has handled everything professionally, never expressing any discontent and never expressing a desire to be anywhere but Miami.

“Obviously, I’m young and ambitious and would love to do more and be part of more, but sometimes you just can’t think about myself, I, I, I,” he said. “It’s understanding we’re here to win a championship this season… I’m just going about my day, being grateful and happy to be here.”

Has there been internal growth putting aside personal goals for the team?

“Definitely, as you get older, you get more mature and play the right way,” he said. “Not that I haven’t in the past. But [I’m] more conscious of it and understanding what it takes to win. Don’t get so caught in the now.”

Here’s one way of framing what Herro is asked to do: When Butler and Adebayo play, Herro is expected to shoot more threes, unless he gets to the rim. When Butler is sidelined, Herro knows he has the green light to take more midrange shots.

When Butler plays, “it lessens it a little bit with the load of having the ball in my hand, which everyone knows I love, having the ball in my hand, being able to attack and play make. It’s an adjustment.”

Is he still trying to figure it out? “For sure,” he said. “I’m not caught up in how I envision myself playing. It’s a fine line of winning a championship and also having personal goals. Trying to feed into the team while I can still be myself and still play my game. And understanding next year might not be the same roster and same circumstances.”

Kevin Love looks at Herro and sees himself in this regard: Like Herro, Love needed to change his role offensively to play alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.

And like Herro, “I’ve been in trade rumors every offseason,” Love said. “I’ve been him. I was the third guy. I played in the paint and in the interior my whole career and I was asked when I got to Cleveland to play on the perimeter. I was asked to do a lot of things that maybe I was uncomfortable with or wasn’t used to.

“I had to acclimate or find how I could best impact the team with a Big Three but two guys who are going to get the highest usage rate in LeBron and Kyrie. I’ve been in his position many times before and he has handled it very well. His maturity has really impressed me.”

And now comes another stretch that could determine his Heat future.

If the Heat exits meekly from the playoffs and decides to break up this cast, Herro will shoot to the top of the list of players who could be dealt.

He’s determined not to allow any drama to impact him.

He said earlier this season that he is able to tune out the “outside noise” because is “at peace with myself. Knowing I put the work in and who I am. And how I play doesn’t determine who I am.”

Until early February, Herro and Kyrie Irving had been the only starting shooting guards averaging 20 points and shooting 40 percent on threes. He’s still averaging 20.8 points and shooting 39.9 percent on threes.

He said he sees what’s said about him on social media “but I don’t go out of my way to look for it. You see what people are talking about. I don’t think it really matters what people think about what’s going on around here. It’s more the people in this building.”

Is he ever tempted to respond, like Kevin Durant occasionally does? “I was taught to not respond,” he said. “My personal life is not supposed to be on social media. You won’t catch me responding to anyone on social media unless it’s one of my friends.”

But there’s more at play, too.

“I’ve got two kids,” he said. “I’m still a young man. But I’m a father too. My daughter can talk a little now. She looks up to me. I have to be a role model not just for them but the rest of the kids in the community.”

There have been shooting lulls, but he also has displayed the ability to bounce back quickly from many of the off nights. This season, an 8 for 25 shooting night against Philadelphia was followed by a 10 for 18 against Golden State. A 4 for 17 clunker at Phoenix was followed by a 10 for 20 game against Houston.

“I’m still working on it but I feel I’m way better than I was before,” he said of handling shooting slumps mentally. “Just not being such an emotional player as far as how I’m playing.”

▪ Kevin Love missed Thursday’s game because of a heel bruise sustained when taking a charge from Portland’s DeAndre Ayton on Tuesday.