MIAMI — After two straight preseason losses, the Heat returned home and looked like themselves again.
Using the ball-sharing formula that worked so well over the second half of last season, the Heat defeated the Hornets 109-106 on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami finished with 23 assists on 40 made baskets, and 13 of those assists came in the first half.
“There was some really good things, particularly in the first half with the way the guys were moving the ball and playing off each other,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Some of our best possessions in the preseason, including practices, were in that second quarter.”
With starting point guard Goran Dragic getting the night off, Dion Waiters served as the Heat’s primary facilitator with 14 points and eight assists.
In total, six Heat players finished with double-digit points. Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson led the way with 18 points each.
Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk each recorded double-doubles. Whiteside finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Olynyk finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Miami is now 2-2 this preseason, with two games left to play before opening the regular season on Oct. 18.
Here are our three takeaways …
The Olynyk-Whiteside frontcourt is a real thing: Playing two 7-footers together seems like a bad idea in today’s NBA. But Olynyk and Whiteside have proved it may actually work for the Heat this season. Olynyk and Whiteside were in the starting lineup together Monday for the second consecutive preseason game and the results were positive. Miami built an 18-15 lead over Charlotte to start the game before Spoelstra turned to his bench. And to start the second half, the lineup outscored the Hornets 17-13. This was just a continuation of Saturday’s game against the Magic, when a Heat lineup featuring Olynyk and Whiteside went on an 11-0 run early in the third quarter and the group ended up outscoring Orlando 17-8. Olynyk’s ability to facilitate spacing and ball movement as a competent passer and 3-point shooter is the reason this 7-foot duo works well together. Spoelstra is known for his out-of-the-box ideas, and starting Olynyk next to Whiteside could be his next one.
“It’s definitely a little bit different,” Olynyk said when asked about starting as opposed to coming off the bench. “The rotation Spo has been going with is kind of me at the start a little bit, then take me out early and bring me in with the second unit a little bit as well so then you get to play with both units.”
Rough night for the rookie: After averaging six minutes of playing time in the Heat’s first three preseason games, Bam Adebayo played some first-half basketball for the first time Monday. But those early minutes, which came against Hornets center Dwight Howard, weren’t pretty. Adebayo committed three quick fouls and the Heat were outscored by 10 points during his three minutes of playing time in the first half. He missed all four of his shots in the game and finished with two rebounds. It’s a reminder that Adebayo, who was selected by the Heat with the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft, is still just 20 years old and will need more time to further develop his game.
“The biggest lesson right there is you always have to be ready,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo’s first-half struggles. “I don’t think he thought he was going to go in in the first half. Just the flow of these preseason games when those guys have gotten in, it’s been the last six minutes of the fourth quarter when I just make wholesale changes. But that’s the life of a young player trying to break in.”
Should James Johnson come off the bench this season?: Many had James Johnson penciled in as the Heat’s starting power forward. But that’s still up in the air. In fact, Johnson came off the bench Monday against the Hornets and finished with 13 points, four rebounds and four assists. It’s his second consecutive preseason game playing as a reserve, as Spoelstra continues to start Olynyk at power forward next to Whiteside. It’s a small sample size, but Johnson has been much more effective as a bench player this preseason. In two games as a reserve, he’s averaged 10.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Johnson started the first two preseason games and struggled, scoring a combined four points on 2-of-9 shooting. Johnson might have an explanation for this, as he said before Monday’s game that coming off the bench is in his “comfort zone.” That’s because he excelled in a bench role last season, averaging 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists in a career year. Whether Johnson starts or not, getting another standout season from him is the goal.