Tough decisions for Heat with Chris Bosh out

Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have to decide how big they want to go this season, or whether it's best for the Miami Heat to start playing for next year. (Getty Images)
Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have to decide how big they want to go this season, or whether it’s best for the Miami Heat to start playing for next year. (Getty Images)

The Heat are uncertain about Chris Bosh’s status going forward, but one thing they do know is the games will keep coming.

While it is difficult to shift focus back to basketball, Miami has no choice. The team resumes the second half of the season Friday in Atlanta, the start of three games in four nights, and must decide how to proceed.

[Miami Heat still optimistic about Chris Bosh’s health]

[Dave George: What does Alonzo Mourning’s story teach Pat Riley about Chris Bosh?]

[Hassan Whiteside accepts NBA’s one-game suspension]

The first question the organization faces is whether to keep pushing or give up on this season. At 29-24 and holding the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, it seems highly unlikely the Heat will simply fold. That means for the next few hours, until the 3 p.m. trade deadline, expect Miami to aggressively look for ways to bolster its roster. That comes with the ongoing stipulation that the Heat will not compromise next season to save this one.

The problem for this team trying to make a big move via trade, though, is that the two best players available are centers. Dwight Howard and Al Horford would have been great pickups to play with Bosh, but using one of them to replace him for at least the rest of this season could also work. A smaller and more doable move that could help would be targeting New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson.

If there is legitimate concern that Bosh might be out beyond this year, Horford has to be the choice. He is more versatile than Howard (he added a 3-point shot this year), has fewer worries health-wise, is a year younger and has no red flags in his reputation.

With Howard or Horford moving in, assuming Hassan Whiteside is out, the most straightforward move is shifting Josh McRoberts into the starting power forward slot. Miami signed him for that job originally, envisioning a small-ball starting five with Bosh at center.

McRoberts as a starter is intriguing. The offense runs well with him on the floor, though the Heat could use more 3-point shooting and scoring from him if he’s going to play a bigger role, and his defense is often underrated. He is holding opponents to 6.5 percentage points below what they normally shoot from the field, which is the best differential on the team.

The other maneuver would be utilizing a lineup that coach Erik Spoelstra already leans on with Justise Winslow at small forward and Luol Deng moving to power forward. That configuration is a prime solution even if the Heat don’t trade for a new center. Using those two as the forwards, relying on Deng’s exceptional defensive versatility, and Whiteside at center might be enough to keep Miami competitive in the East.

Among the six Heat lineups that have played at least 50 minutes, the aforementioned group plus Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic is second on the team at plus-8.3 points per 48 minutes. Miami’s best lineup this year is Amar’e Stoudemire, Bosh, Deng, Wade and Dragic at 9.1.

Most of the lineups Spoelstra trusts in the fourth quarter involve Bosh, a reminder that he truly is the most valuable player on the team. His 444 fourth-quarter minutes is second only to Winslow’s 446. No one else is over 365.

The non-Bosh lineup that Spoelstra uses most in crunch time is Dragic, Wade, Winslow, Deng and Whiteside. That group is plus-20 in fourth quarters this season.

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