MIAMI – The Miami Heat were without Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow Tuesday but it did not matter as Miami led for the final 3 1/3 quarters while breezing to a 107-77 preseason victory over the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Guards Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson led the Heat (4-2) as coach Erik Spoelstra went with a three guard lineup with Winslow sitting out because of a sore back. Whiteside missed the game because of the death of his great grandmother.
Dragic scored 17 points and Johnson and Waiters chipped in with 15 each. Willie Reed, who started in place of Whiteside, had 16 points, eight in the fourth quarter as Miami shot 51.2 percent and held the Magic to 33.7 percent from the floor.
Here are our five takeaways from Miami’s sixth preseason game.
1. The Heat do not have a backup small forward: Winslow, who had started every preseason game, missed Tuesday’s contest with a sore back. Spoelstra decided to go small, starting Dragic, Waiters and Wayne Ellington and sticking with three guards the entire game and it showed at the end as the Heat’s guard scored 72 points. But when looking at the roster, the Heat really do not have a backup small forward. James Johnson, who is in the mix for the starting power forward but more likely will be an energizer off the bench, probably is the closest thing to a small forward on the roster besides Winslow. Williams also can play the position. James Johnson left the game with a slight tweak of left foot in the second quarter and did not return. Spoelstra downplayed the three guards. “I honestly don’t look at it that way,” he said. “We’re just putting players out there and playing our brand of basketball no matter who’s out there.”
2. Dion Waiters is making his case: The shooting guard started his third straight game and scored 15 points in 26 minutes. The Heat knew Waiters could score when the signed him this summer but the former Oklahoma City guard continues to show his unselfishness, a quality that has endeared him to his new teammates. Waiters capped the first half by nailing a 43-foot three pointer at the buzzer to stretch the Heat’s lead to 10. He was 5 of 9 from the floor, 2 of 3 on threes. Waiters, though, could be keeping the starting spot warm for when Josh Richardson returns from his knee injury as Spoelstra may decide to used Waiters as the sixth man, and along with Tyler Johnson as the second team backcourt. “Right now what I’ve told him is to continue to get better, learn our system and commit to the things that are important to us and I think he’s really been making an effort to do that.” Spoelstra said.
3. Hassan Whiteside is rubbing off on his teammates: Okay, nobody can block shots like Whiteside, not on the Heat not in the league considering Whiteside led the league last season with 3.7 blocks per game. But the Heat did their best to make sure they did not miss their big man on Tuesday. Although Whiteside was with his family following the death of his great grandmother, the Heat were aggressive defensively in the paint with nine blocked shots, six in the first half. James Johnson came off the bench to get the block party started with three in the first half before guards Dragic and Tyler Johnson joined in with each swatting a shot in the second quarter. “A better consistent effort defensively,” Spoelstra said. “Not necessarily a ton to evaluate from this. We just wanted to really establish our identity.”
4. Derrick Williams appears to be the choice as the starting power forward. … for now. Williams has now started four consecutive games. Of course, part of the reason is Josh McRoberts has missed all of camp with a foot injury and Luke Babbitt has a sore groin. Still, the Heat like Williams’ versatility and athleticism, something he displayed with an acrobatic put back as he was getting fouled on a Dragic missed layup in the first half Tuesday. Williams is limited defensively but Spoelstra has said he’s pleased with the way Williams is progressing and learning the system. If Williams starts, that gives Spoelstra two specialists at the position off the bench, Babbitt as a three-point shooter and James Johnson as a lockdown defender.
5. An interesting development at backup point guard: Spoelstra did not play either Beno Udrih nor Briante Weber until Weber checked in late in the third quarter. Instead, Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder were the first two guards off the bench and played heavy minutes along with starters Dragic, Waiters and Ellington, with Tyler Johnson sliding in as the backup point guard when Dragic left the floor. Johnson finished with four assists and no turnovers giving him 14 and 1 for the preseason. The thinking was the final roster spot would come down to Udrih and Weber but Spoelstra may have other thoughts. Tyler Johnson has been working on his point guard skills and we’ve seen Waiters as a facilitator during the preseason. Spoelstra praised Weber in his limited play and said McGruder was “rock solid.” On Johnson he said: “The game is slowing down for him. He’s so quick, so aggressive, gets in the gaps but he’s doing it with more thought now.”