Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hassan Whiteside to miss Tuesday's game vs. Magic after the death of his great grandmother

Hassan Whiteside will not play Tuesday night against the Orlando Magic and has returned home to North Carolina to be with his family following the death of his great grandmother. 

Hassan Whiteside"He's going through some tough times. But we're there for him," teammate Goran Dragic said Monday. "I can't wait to see him back."

Whiteside will rejoin the Heat on Thursday when the team plays at Charlotte, coach Erik Spoelstra said. 

Miami will also likely be without forwards Justise Winslow (back) and Luke Babbitt (groin) when it faces the Magic at 7:30 p.m. AmericanAirlines Arena Tuesday.

Spoelstra said Winslow would be a game-time decision and that Babbitt would get the night off for precautionary reasons after going through shoot-around on Tuesday. Winslow is the only Heat player that has started all five games this preseason.

"If it was his decision he would play," Spoelstra said of Babbitt. "But we want to give it another night."

Spoelstra said he feels like he's seen enough of the Heat through it's first five preseason games to not have to worry so much about studying rotations and instead can put health and well-being at the forefront of concerns.

Miami opens the season Oct. 26 in Orlando and wraps up the preseason with back-to-back games Thursday at Charlotte and at home Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers.  

"I think we're still going to move forward with the plan that we've had," Spoelstra said. "It also depends on who is available. I'd like to get guys as many reps to build that continuity. But I don't I feel like I need to have an official dress rehearsal. I just want to continue to have us look at things and move forward. Three games will be good for us."

Monday, October 17, 2016

Babbitt still dealing with tight groin; J-Rich progressing, but a return for the season opener unlikely

Coach Erik Spoelstra has gone with Derrick Williams as his starting power forward for the last three preseason games, but he made it clear Monday he's still not ready to give the former No. 2 overall pick the starting job just yet.

Luke Babbitt"I'm not really at that point right now," Spoelstra said. "We're developing him and his minutes and his confidence right now until he understands our system. But I did like the way he played this weekend. To be frank, I may have gone back to Luke [Babbitt] on Saturday if he was healthy to give that another look as well."

Babbitt, who started the Heat's preseason opener and is an enticing option for Spoelstra because of his dangerous three-point shooting touch, missed last weekend's back-to-back games in San Antonio and Louisville with a tight right groin.

Monday, Babbitt participated in some non-contact drills, but said the groin is still not up to par. His goal now is just to try and return before the preseason ends on Friday, when the Heat play the final leg of a three games in four nights stretch against the Philadelphia 76ers.

"I don't think it's really that serious," Babbitt said Monday of his tight groin, an injury he says he's never had before. "It's just real tight and I just want to treat it before it becomes a lingering issue. I didn't go through the full practice today, but my goal would be to get back out there as soon as I can.

"I'm real conscious of wanting to be out there right now, developing a chemistry with the guys. I take this preseason real seriously. I'm doing everything I can to get out there ASAP. At the same time with a tight groin muscle it's something I don't want have lingering into the regular season."

> Spoelstra said guard Josh Richardson, who has been recovering from a partially torn MCL in his right knee since Sept. 9, was "able to get out there and do a decent portion of the non-contact work" Monday.

But it's clear the Heat are not going to push him very hard to be ready for the season opener on Oct. 26. The team prefers he heals correctly and avoids a setback. 

"I think it would be a very optimistic, aggressive schedule," Spoelstra responded when asked if it's realistic to think Richardson could play in the opener. "We want to make sure he's feeling full comfortable, fully conditioned and that he really trusts his leg. He's never been really injured before. So, that's also new to him."

The original diagnosis for Richardson's recovery was six to eight weeks. He said he was hopeful he would be able to make it back in time for the opener, but at the same time didn't know that he would.

Last week Richardson began taking "soft" jump shots. He's said during camp in the Bahamas that once he returns he'll wear a brace on his right knee at least until he's fully confident he's recovered from the injury. 

> Spoelstra said he won't necessarily treat the final week of the preseason any differently in terms of getting guys minutes and establishing rotations. 

"I don't feel that I really need to play a full rotation," he said. "We did as much as we possibly could of that in San Antonio. So, I'll balance that while still trying to evaluate some of the younger guys. And also I want to make sure our guys are feeling really good, healthy and fresh for that first game."

Monday, October 03, 2016

Will the Heat's first projected starting lineup be the same on opening night in Orlando? Maybe

WASHINGTON -- The Heat will open the preseason here at the Verizon Center Tuesday night and although coach Erik Spoelstra hasn't disclosed who will be starting against the Wizards, the team's media relations department released a projected starting lineup in its game notes.

Dion WaitersAs expected, point guard Goran Dragic, forward Justise Winslow and center Hassan Whiteside were in that group. The other two projected starters: guard Dion Waiters and forward Derrick Williams.

Waiters has started 110 games in his four-year career and unless he and Dragic struggle to mesh this preseason he's probably the guy who will be in the Heat's starting backcourt when Miami opens the regular season Oct. 26. Or, at least until Josh Richardson recovers from the sprained MCL in his right knee and pushes Waiters to get into the starting lineup.

While Wayne Ellington will get his shot to impress, he has to prove he can defend better than he has in the past. Opponents shot 3.5 percent better than they normally did last season when Ellington was guarding them. Waiters held the players he guarded to minus 0.5 percent below their season average. 

As for Williams, an athletic, former No. 2 overall pick who has started 101 games in his career, he's fighting for a position that ultimately seems wide open with three-point specialist Luke Babbitt (38 career starts) and defensive-minded James Johnson (140 career starts) the other real contenders. Basically, all three together equal what Chris Bosh gave the Heat in one player.

Now, Spoelstra has to decide which of those three and the elements they bring, mesh the best with the starting unit. Then, he's got to figure out if and how he can still get something worthwhile out of the other guys if they are coming off the bench. It won't be easy especially since Josh McRoberts, who could also be in the mix to start, is still recovering from a setback with his broken right foot back in May. 

"It's going to be different things with different guys," Spoelstra answered Monday when asked he's ultimately looking for in a starting power forward.

"When Luke is there, he's spacing the floor and I want to him have an absolute green light. Like some of the guys we've had here in the past I don't want him to think about ever hesitating behind the three-point line. Even if he's taking some bad ones I want him to have that green light.

"But Derrick [Williams] has a different skill set. He can knock down threes. But he's an aggressive player that's really effective in the paint. James [Johnson] brings a different dynamic when he's there in terms of his ability to playmake, similar to the way Justise does. They do different things and we want to try to maximize those strengths and be OK with guys playing different roles in that position. They don't have to look the same."

For what it's worth, Spoelstra said he has some idea of the 10 players he thinks will be in the Heat's rotation. But I think health and how guys mesh with one another over these eight preseason games will ultimately determine who those 10 really are. Spoelstra has said on multiple occasions he's happy the Heat are playing the NBA maximum eight preseason games so he can get a good look at this team and evaluate his choices.

While Spoelstra wants to see the Heat remain competitive this preseason, winning will take a back seat to finding the lineup combinations and rotations. After all, that's what the preseason is for. 

Ultimately, you probably won't see much of the rookies this preseason except on nights Miami plays back-to-backs. The Heat only have two of those situations: Oct. 14 and 15 when the Heat visit the Spurs and then play the T'Wolves in Louisville, Ky. and then Oct. 20 and 21 when Miami wraps up the preseason at Charlotte and then at home against the 76ers.

"I don't anticipate I'll play guys over 20 minutes," Spoelstra said Monday of the Heat's preseason opener. "We'll have to evaluate and get guys in there. I also won't be able to play everybody. That's pretty obvious as well. How I work that out, I'm not totally sure yet."

BACKCOURT MESH

As for the starting back court, until Richardson returns to full health and competes, the job is likely Waiters' to lose.

What does Spoelstra like about a Waiters-Dragic backcourt?

"You have two ball-handlers, two guys that can attack in the paint," he said. "They both can spread the floor for the other guy. They're both very capable three-point shooters. So, I do like that dynamic. Each can handle on the pick and roll and we can put a lot of pressure on the defense with those two guys."

Dragic told me Saturday before the Heat left the Bahamas that he feels like he and Waiters mesh well, but that both need to learn to communicate better as the preseason moves on.

"He can shoot the ball. He can space. He plays pick-and-rolls and sometimes that's good," Dragic said of Waiters. "It takes pressure off me a little bit. There's another playmaker on the court too. I already played like that before [in Phoenix] with [Eric] Bledsoe."

Is that who Waiters reminds you of?

"Yes," Dragic answered. "Better shooter though."

> What is Dragic looking for in the preseason opener?

"Just to get organized. We know what to run on a miss and on a make. I feel like when we're communicating and echoing the calls then it's much easier," he said Monday. "Our spacing is much better and then it's really easy to play because the ball is moving and I think the most important thing is going to be that tomorrow."

> Expect Winslow to be all over the court at different positions.He won't just line up at small forward or power forward. He could run the point at times, line up at center like he did in the playoffs and even play some shooting guard.

"That's not realistic for him," Spoelstra said when asked if Winslow would concentrate on just one position this preseason. "And he's better in those kind of situations where you challenge him to do more things and use more of his versatility."

> Here's some video of Winslow today working on his three-point shot. The hitch in his shot is noticeably gone.

FYI, Winslow has been the last to leave the court at almost every practice I've been at. And I haven't missed one. 

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Heat wrap up camp in the Bahamas, look ahead to start of preseason on Tuesday

NASSAU, BAHAMAS -- Some quick notes off the team's final day of camp in the Bahamas: 

> Saturday’s final practice at the Atlantis Paradise Resort ended with point guard Goran Dragic (knee soreness) and center Hassan Whiteside (left knee soreness) not participating in contact drills.

Neither issue is of serious concern to coach Erik Spoelstra.

Whiteside, who also worked off to the side on Friday, and Dragic, who said he was just sore from having played a lot this summer with the Slovenian national team, both expect to play in the Heat’s preseason opener on Tuesday at Washington.

"I'm looking forward to it," Whiteside said. "I'm pretty sure I'll be there the first game against the Wizards. Just get out there and get it started, get in front of the Heat fans and let's get this thing started."

The soreness for Whiteside is not in the same knee he severely sprained during the playoffs.

"It feels a lot better," he said of his left knee. "I just wanted to be careful with the contact. I worked out. I feel a lot better."

> Guard Josh Richardson, who sprained his MCL on Sept. 9 after he landed awkwardly following a dunk during a team workout, said he made some progress with his knee during camp but is still experiencing pain with certain movements.

The Heat still hope he will be ready for the season opener Oct. 26.

"I think I've made a lot of progress actually," Richardson said. "Before this week I just started walking and stuff. I never really got to get on the court at all. So this week I got to do a little court walk, start shooting some. Just being able to be mobile with my team has been great for me mentally."

Richardson said he will likely wear a leg brace to start the season.

> Spoelstra said he’s not sure who will start in Tuesday’s preseason opener just yet.

“I'll chew on that all the way until [Tuesday],” he said. “I'm going to have to learn a lot. Actually, I'm thankful we have eight preseason games. We're going to need these games to evaluate and continue to get ready.”

> Friday night the entire team got together for a barbecue on the beach and some bonding time.

"It helps when you go away,” Spoelstra said. “Going back to when Pat was coaching, you always like to get away and just have more opportunities that are unscripted [for bonding]. It has to be organic. You can't force it upon a group. It just happens very naturally here. Like I said it was a great environment to be here and the bus rides, all the meals we had together. The team barbecue last night was fun."

Dragic said he learned how to play dominoes at the barbecue. He might even be willing to head down to Calle Ocho now in Miami and take on some grand champions at Domino Park. 

"It was great," he said. "We finished practice and had a good meeting. After that it was relaxing and having fun. The fellas, they teached me how to play Dominoes and it was fun. Something new, but at the same time you can talk with those guys and ask them questions and get to know them."

How is the bonding going with Dion Waiters in the backcourt?

"Great. I just I think we still need a little bit more time," Dragic said. "From his part, he needs to be more communicating. But he's an unbelievable player. We've already seen what he can do. Even in this training camp he's explosive. He can get other people involved. He can create his own shot. So, it's going to be easy. We just need to talk so we can be on the same page."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Heat's NBA title odds fall to 100/1 in wake of Chris Bosh news

If odds makers have the inside track on how this NBA season will end then it probably won't be very enjoyable for the Miami Heat.

A week after the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook tabbed Miami at the 36 1/2 wins (tied for third-fewest in the Eastern Conference), Bovada.lv released its newest NBA championship odds on Tuesday with the Heat drastically slipping from its opening 33/1 odds back on June 20 to 100/1 odds.

It's hardly surprising considering Pat Riley said Monday Chris Bosh's career with the Heat is probably over

Miami's odds to win the East meanwhile opened at 40/1 or tied with Milwaukee, Detroit and Washington for eighth in the conference. The Heat, meanwhile, are receiving the third-best odds to win the Southeast Division at 13/4, behind the Hawks (7/4) and Wizards (3/1).

"There's always going to be a story line, but our expectations with the Heat never change," coach Erik Spoelstra responded Tuesday when asked about the lowered expectations for the Heat this coming season.

"It's what makes us who we are. We're stubborn in our belief about those expectations and we feel that this group has a big ceiling. It will take some time, learning this group and figuring out how to get the best out of it. But we do like the pieces and we feel it has great potential. So, we'd be doing a disservice to this group to listen whatever predictions are out there."

Udonis Haslem said the Heat will never get used to playing with lowered expectations.

"We use that kind of stuff. We use it as a motivation. We use it as fire," he said. "At the end of the day the only thing that matters is the guys that's in the locker room. For me, a large amount of my success has been that chip that I've carried on my shoulder, throughout my career. For me, knowing a good amount of those guys have that chip, that's good for me to start working with."

Monday, May 09, 2016

When will Hassan Whiteside return from his sprained MCL? Good luck guessing

Hassan Whiteside will not be playing Monday night in Game 4 against the Toronto Raptors. 

That much we know for sure. But anything beyond that is anyone's guess right now.

A sprained medial collateral ligament can be tricky and not everyone reacts the same.

Soon to be two-time league MVP Steph Curry hasn't played since he sustained a Grade 1 MCL sprain in Game 4 against the Houston Rockets. Other players like Deron Williams and John Wall have missed one game or none at all. 

And the Heat are simply listing Whiteside as day-to-day right now.

"He's not playing tonight and that's the only thing I'm concerned about right now," coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday morning after his team's shoot-around. 

"Obviously all of us were very concerned [on Saturday when he was hurt]. When we left the building we tried to stay positive, but you're also aware of the different scenarios there could be. It's a non-surgery option, which I think is obviously the best option considering everything."

Veteran Udonis Haslem, who played a season-high 22 minutes and 12 seconds in Game 3 and is in line for more minutes as the series moves forward with Whiteside out, has played through a number of injuries in the playoffs -- from a broken foot to broken fingers, ankle sprains and more. He's also played with a sprained MCL.

"It feels like your leg is kind of not stable. Your knee is not stable," Haslem said Monday. "It can kind of go any direction at any given time. And it's kind of painful to walk, to run, to bend."

Is it simply about playing through fear and pain?

"I don't think mine was as severe as his," Haslem said. "So, his process may be a little different than mine's was."

ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell joined 790 The Ticket's morning show with Jonathan Zaslow, Brett Romberg and Amber Wilson Monday and did a good job providing some insight and background into MCL sprains

"Basically, the MCL is the ligament that protects the inside of your knee," Bell said. "It gives you your stability -- especially when you're moving laterally, when you have to cut, when you have to pivot. But even just running up and down the court, if you have a significant injury to your MCL it's going to make it difficult to move your knee. It's going to stiffen up and your going to lose range of motion. I heard [Spoelstra] said they got 'the best news possible.' What that tells me is it's not a complete tear, they didn't probably see any structural damage on the MRI. That's why they're calling him day-to-day. Because it's truly a matter of function and pain and what he can do and what he needs to do to play. But I've got to tell you a turnaround of 48 hours is pretty quick."

Whiteside, due for a big payday this summer, could potentially hurt his asking price this summer if he were to return and tear his MCL or ACL and further injure his knee. 

He said Saturday the pain he experienced was something he had never felt before -- even after he strained his right knee when he slipped on the court in Game 1.

Spoelstra said Monday Whiteside's injury in Game 3 was not related to what happened in Game 1 and said "this was a contact injury."

"Who knows if it's exactly the same area of his knee, but the fact he had already done something to that side seemed to aggravate it fairly easily," Bell said. "He had a fall [Saturday], but still it didn't look that dramatic in terms of the worst way you can injure your knee. So maybe it was already setup from the first way he did it in Game 1. Now, he's got this. You're not going to put him out there if he can't move well because that would really set him up for potentially greater injury."

Bell said there are ways the Heat's medical and training staff could alleviate some of the discomfort for Whiteside. 

"You can wear a brace what gives you lateral support," Bell said. "It's a medial or lateral bracket if you will, like a little metal piece that kind of reinforces the side. But those aren't always comfortable. Certainly, the rehab staff, the athletic trainers or physical therapists, can do tape jobs that help. They could offer a lot of comfort, kind of help reinforce the inside of the knee.

"I've heard people reference football players that came back the next week [from an MCL injury]. But they may not need to move in a fluid or dynamic way. They're not jumping all the time. They're not necessarily running and changing direction on a short surface. So it's really difficult to compare one athlete to another even when you're talking about the same grade of injury."

Would Bell allow Whiteside to return if he were clamoring to play?

"Only if he could show me that he could move as well he said he felt," she said. "It really comes down to performance and they don't want to put somebody in if they're a compromised version of themselves. Because that doesn't really do anyone any good either. So while you appreciate his effort to get back on the court and certainly they want him there if he can be what he needs to be, it probably will come down to how he looks [in shoot around] and in pregame warm-ups and can he do what he needs to do for them to feel comfortable putting him in."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

ESPN's Jalen Rose thinks Heat will beat Hornets, reach Eastern Conference Finals

ESPN analyst Jalen Rose shared his thoughts on the playoffs Thursday during a teleconference with reporters and I participated. 

Here's the first one I tossed Jalen's way and the others related to the Heat. Note: Our Barry Jackson has a Hassan Whiteside related question on his blog.

Q: The Heat and Hornets both finished 48-34, split the season series and appear destined for a good first round series. Which team advances and why?

Rose: "First off I'm happy for the Hornets -- in particular Kemba Walker. Watching him win the championship in college and be clutch and still continue to mature in the league and become one of the better one-on-one players, a 20-point scorer and basically be their best player in leading them to the playoffs -- I appreciate his progress, as well the versatility of Nicolas Batum. Al Jefferson has played well recently. Is he going to be able to do that in the playoffs?

"But I'm also excited on the other side to see Dwyane Wade who has been healthy for the most part this year, played [74] games this season. The addition of Joe Johnson, his versatility whether its posting up, playing one-on-one. The young fella [Hassan] Whiteside coming off the bench, getting a double-double, getting blocks. I like to see him Al go against one another. I really like how [Heat coach Erik] Spoelstra has developed his young players and turned them into rotation players on the fly. And I do give Miami the edge to advance in this series."

Q: What kind of threat would the Heat pose against the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Rose: "Besides the obvious Golden State and Spurs the individual intriguing series I'm looking forward to would be that one. Just because of the dynamic that's going to have to play out. That's something that we as fans really wanted to see every time the Cavs went back to Miami and imparticular the last time when they got blownout and LeBron [James] was fraternizing with D-Wade during the game and then talking to Coach [Lue], talking to the general manager afterward. He's basically played great basketball since. So the great thing that's going to have to happen for the Cavs to advance is there's going to have to be a hatred. There's going to have to be a dislike that LeBron's going to have to carry against his former jersey that he hasn't and against his brother brother Dwyane Wade and against the team he won two championships with. And vice-versa. I'm really fascinated to see how it's going to play out. Because Wade, if the Heat were losing by 25, if he was down there fraternizing with LeBron, I don't know who would have gotten to him first between Pat [Riley] or Spo."

Q: Heat fans seem to be split on Goran Dragic. Do you think he's a good fit for them and if so how is he going to do in the playoffs?

Rose: "I do [think he's a good fit] because he's a smart basketball player, a crafty lefty, can finish in the paint, finish at the hoop, make midrange shots and even make threes when he gets going. He can be a really effective offensive player and he's a willing passer. But he was playing different in Phoenix when they play four around one, sometimes five guys on the three-point line whereas Miami plays more traditional, more conventional. Wade's not a three-point shooter. Deng can shoot, but he's a driver. Winslow's not a three-point shooter. They are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the entire league. That in itself surpresses the floor -- based on what he's used to playing and seeing as a point guard.

"But now I like the way they're using him inside pick and rolls situations where he has a live dribble to get to the paint or throw a lob to Whiteside. And also using besides pick and rolls, drive the middle with his left hand. I think he's been a lot better recently. It's also tough when you get a new contract and you weren't necessarily a franchise caliber player or even an All-Star. And a lot of Heat nation is probably saying 'Why are we paying this guy $80 million? You never get what you deserve only what you leverage to negotiate. He probably won't live up to being an All-Star in the East. But I do think he's effective enough to help them get to the Eastern Conference Finals this year."

Q: What will Dwyane Wade's legacy rank among active shooting guards?

Rose: "I'll put him in a separate category than the young upstarts like James Harden, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler because he's done it longer. The longevity is there, the championships are there and he's a lot more accomplished. They are asked to a lot more for their teams. So, if we were taking who would we draft going forward you would probably take one of those guys because they're younger, healthier and all the stuff that comes with youth. But Dwyane Wade is still playing at an All-Star level. He's played in 70 games for probably the third time in his career. I like what I'm seeing from him headed into the playoffs. I like the way he's been able to change his game, not shooting as many threes, still driving to the basket, still getting contact, still finishing. Not only from midrange, but he still has bounce in his jumpshot. I really like what I'm seeing from him. I'm expecting him and Joe Johnson to lead the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals."

Q: In your opinion what do you think Miami is still missing on their roster, or is it just going to come down to the development of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson?

Rose: "Well, that's what's so unfortunate about Chris Bosh being out, because if they had Bosh, I would flip a coin in Game 7 to say who would win between them and the Cavs. It would be that close to me. So I think it's remarkable how Pat has rebuilt the roster. Look at what happened to the Cavs when LeBron left. They were the worst team in the league, and there's a reason why they got the No. 1 overall pick. So LeBron leaving, while he wanted to go home and play, the undercurrent for that was I probably have a bigger upside winning championships with [Kevin] Love and Kyrie [Irving]. So for what they've done with their roster, they are in position right now if they had Bosh to go with Joe Johnson, but without Bosh in the lineup, the obvious thing is their three‑point shooting needs help. But other than that, it's just unfortunate that he's not going to be healthy, especially if they end up going against the Cavs."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Takeaways from Heat-Bucks

MILWAUKEE -- The Heat blew a fourth quarter lead and lost a game it shouldn't have Wednesday. It dropped Miami 1 1/2 games back of the Boston Celtics for third place in the Eastern Conference and left the Heat just a game up on the Atlants Hawks for fourth place. 

There's plenty more to digest from the Heat's sixth loss to the Bucks in their last seven meetings:

1. Coach Erik Spoelstra yanked Hassan Whiteside out in the first half and had a talk with him on the Heat bench

Anytime the coach feels the need to pull a player and have a talk with him on the bench in the middle of the game it raises eyebrows. And that becomes a bigger deal when it involves a coach whose had words with that same player before.

In this case, though, what Spoelstra and Whiteside had to discuss took only 47 seconds to iron out and probably had to do with Whiteside not doing what he was supposed to do on the defensive end. Otherwise, if it was a bigger deal, Whiteside probably would not have gone right back into the game.

He finished the first half with 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocks and although he returned in the second half a couple minutes later than he normally does neither Whiteside nor Spoelstra seemed to make a big deal about it.

"We didn't have a conflict. We had a conversation," Whiteside said. "It wasn't a conflict between me and Spo. 

"I'm just here to play," Whiteside later said. "Whatever he says I just try to go out there and do it and try to play to the best of my abilities. I try to rebound and block shots and dunk on people. I just try to be the best Hassan Whiteside I can be on the court."

2. Josh Richardson is continuing to make quite the impression

The Heat's second round pick finished with 14 points, two assists, two steals and a block in 24 minutes off the bench and had plenty of highlights.

    • He stopped a 4-on-1 Bucks break by blocking a shot near the basket and it turned into a fast break for the Heat that ended with a Whiteside dunk.
    • He made three of his four three-point attempts including a clutch three-pointer in the third quarter with Jarryd Bayless in his face when the Heat badly needed it (Richardson is now 8 for his last 14 on three-point attempts).
    • And, he had this ridiculous dunk...

Whiteside had the best quote from anybody on the Richardson dunk: "It was amazing. I was really surprised by it. I know he can jump, but the way he took off. I had the best view in the house besides Greg [Monroe]."

Said Richardson of the dunk: "I don't know. I just saw a lane. I took it."

3.  Are the Heat relying too much on its fast-paced offense to bail them out and not playing as hard on defense anymore? 

Spoelstra kind of insinuated that and his rookies backed him up.

"We just didn't bring enough from a competitive, defensive standpoint," Spoelstra said. "We had pockets of the game where we competed. We did things we were capable of. That's a unique basketball team and their ability to attack and get to the paint. We had a lot of breakdowns defensively and it's not enough.

"You just figure -- we say this all the time -- we score 108 points [that should be enough]. Look, our identity has not changed. We're not a team that's just trying to outscore you and come in here and see if we can put more points on the board and win that way. On the road it's got to be tough, it's got to be gritty. We have to get multiple stops without fouling. You do have to credit Milwaukee. They were aggressive. They were the more aggressive team for most of the night. They really put a lot pressure on you with dribble penetration, coming at you different ways. They're relentless. They don't stop attacking. So, it has to be every possession."

The Bucks took 37 free throws in the game, the most allowed by the Heat this season. Miami gives up the third fewest free throws in the NBA per game (20.7). Was that officiating? Was that the Heat being lazy on defense and not getting to the spots as fast they need to? Spoelstra will go over that in film study Thursday in Chicago.

But you can't argue against this stat: since the All-Star break, the Heat is giving up 101.4 points per game (9th fewest in league). That's not bad, but still a drop off from where the Heat was before the break when it was giving up 96.3 points per game (2nd fewest).

"Some games [since the break] we've gotten away with just outscoring people," rookie Justise Winslow said. "But down the stretch, especially in the playoffs, the defense has to do a better job of showing up and making it tougher on teams. Like I said, we've gotten away with just outscoring a couple teams and relying on our talent. But we'll get back to the defensive floor. I'm not too worried about it."

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Don't get it twisted, the Heat can shoot (in front of the 3-point line) and are just shooting more now

The Miami Heat had the best shooting night in franchise history Tuesday against the then-No. 1 field goal percentage defense in the NBA.

Yes, the Bulls are no longer the dominant defensive team they were under Tom Thibodeau and were short their two best defenders in Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah.

But Chicago, which fell from first in the league (43.2% opp. field goal percentage) to second behind the Spurs after the Heat lit them up for 129 points Tuesday, is still no pushover. And that only makes what the Heat accomplished even that more special.

Here's a look at where the Heat took and made its shots against the Bulls in its record 67.5 percent shooting night. 

Shotchart_1456928696059

Now, any team in the NBA can have one great shooting night.

For example, the only team to shoot better than the Heat in a game in the last 18 years were the 1998 Los Angeles Clippers, who shot 69.3 percent against the Toronto Raptors on March 13, 1998 in a 152-120 blowout.

You remember those loaded Clippers, don't you? That scary lineup of Darrick Martin, Lamond Murray, Rodney Rodgers, Isaac Austin and Eric Piatowski. They finished 17-65 and shot 43.8 percent for the season.

Well, this Heat team might be a little more talented than those Clippers. The impressive shooting performance Miami had Tuesday night wasn't an abberation. 

Even before the Heat went wild against the Bulls, Miami was already the 7th best shooting team in the league (46.0%).

Now, tied for 5th (46.3%) in the league after Tuesday, Heat fans really shouldn't be surprised why the team looks and feels like its playing a lot better.

All coach Erik Spoelstra and the Heat have done is speed up the pace of the offense and take more shots. That's why the Heat is scoring more.

Sure, if you look at the stats, the Heat still rank 28th in the league in scoring (97.5 per game). But since the All-Star break, Miami is averaging 108.3 points per game (9th in the league) and 88.3 field goal per attempts game (9th in league).

Before the break, Miami was averaging an NBA-worst 79.5 shots per game and just 96 points per game (29th).

So, it's pretty simple: if you can already shoot and just starting shooting more you score more.

Playing fast isn't something Spoelstra wasn't already asking his team to do earlier in the season. It's just that now -- minus Chris Bosh -- his players are actually listening to him and doing it.

This isn't an indictment on Bosh. But his disappearance after the All-Star break forced Luol Deng to move to the power forward spot, forced Goran Dragic to make his teammates get out and run with him, and forced the team to accept an 'everyone gets involved in the offense' approach.

So, the Heat, essentially has figured out after the break that it has a pretty good collection of players who know how to finish around the basket and a few who can knock down a midrange jumper (even Hassan Whiteside). They also figured out that when a defense doesn't have time to get back and set itself up in the halfcourt that only helps an offense execute better.

So, Spoelstra, who spent the first half of the season yelling at Dragic and others to push the pace, finally has believers in what he's been preaching.

"The only thing I don't want to see us do is walk the ball up the court," Spoelstra responded when asked last night if the Heat can be this type of up-and-down paced team the rest of the season. "So whatever that leads to..."

"There were a couple times [Tuesday night] Goran walked it up and I said to him, screamed at him. 'No you be you. Make them run with you. Let's get this ball up court,' " Spoelstra said before delving deeper into his offensive philosophy.

"Even if it's in the halfcourt and we're getting into a set, I want to execute it with time on the clock," he continued. "We want to put constant pressure on the defense, be able to attack and do it while they’re -- hopefully more time than not -- on their heels. If we face someone when a defense gets totally set and they're waiting for us -- even with great spacing -- our execution would have to be at another level, which we're getting to. But I want to play with pace and make sure guys are getting to their spots and sharing the ball.”

Sounds simple enough doesn't it?

Even if the Heat don't have great three-point shooting (they are dead last at 31.9%), this approach of taking high percentage 2-point shots and being able to convert at a higher rate than many other teams in the league can be a successful formula if the Heat continue to play a high level of defense. 

After all, there's only one Steph Curry in the league and only so many Warriors and Spurs to go around.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Tyler Johnson said there's no guarantee he'll back for the playoffs

Tyler Johnson said he's looking forward to being able to play pain free.

Whether that happens this season or next remains to be seen.

The Heat's second-year combo guard, who had surgery Wednesday in Miami to a repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, told The Miami Herald Sunday he's going to try and come back for the playoffs in mid April, but there's no guarantee he'll be healthy enough or ready to contribute.

"The doctors said it's going to be two to three months before I can resume contact," Johnson said. "It's a possibility [I could be back for the playoffs]. But we've just got to see.

"Again, we're not trying to rush it back. If it feels healthy by then, and I'm actually able to contribute and not just be out there trying to figure it out during the playoffs, [then I'll play]. [The playoffs are] not the time to try and figure out if you can go. If there's a couple practices before it, I'll try and practice and figure out what I can do."

The Heat's regular season ends April 13 and the NBA playoffs begin the weekend of April 16. Johnson, who had surgery on Feb. 3, would be 10 weeks into his recovery by then. 

If he's not able to return, that's obviously not good news for the Heat. 

While Johnson struggled earlier this season when pressed into starting point guard duty with Goran Dragic and Beno Udrih out, his overall numbers -- 8.7 points and 2.2 assists, while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three-point range -- were good enough to make him a valuable asset off the bench.

The Heat could opt to find a guard out on the market, but would likely need to drop D-League All-Star forward Jarnell Stokes to make room on the roster. 

WHITESIDE STILL ON THE BENCH

Hassan Whiteside returned from a hip injury this week, but he has yet to take his job back in the starting lineup.

Amar'e Stoudemire, who replaced the injured Whiteside in Toronto on Jan. 22, was in the starting lineup Sunday for the ninth straight game. The Heat is 6-2 with Stoudemire in the starting lineup.

Whiteside came off the bench on Wednesday in Dallas and played just over 17 minutes. Friday against the Hornets, Whiteside posted his fourth career triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks in 27 minutes of action.

The 26-year-old center has averaged 10 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games off the bench. 

Clippers coach Doc Rivers spoke ahead of Sunday’s game to the challenges of managing a player who moves from a starting role to the bench.

“You just have to,” Rivers said. “I also came from Boston, where [former Celtics] Kevin McHale and John Havlicek played. And so it’s not that hard for me to see that you can be a guy that comes off the bench and you can make a lot of money. I’ve seen Kevin McHale’s house, you know? I know he’s done well.

“It’s a sell, though. It really is, and especially for a young kid. But at the end of the day, if you’re winning, it’s hard to say anything.”

Miami Herald writer Aric DiLalla contributed to this report


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