Miami Heat bench has ‘some serious weapons’ and they’re starting to come together

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Heat’s bench is supposed to be one of their biggest weapons.

Through the first eight games, though, Miami’s reserves weren’t living up to expectations. Those struggles were highlighted in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets when Tyler Johnson scored two points on 1-of-8 shooting and Wayne Ellington went scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting off the Heat’s bench.

But the narrative changed in Sunday’s 104-101 win over the Clippers. The Heat’s bench combined to score a season-high 52 points in Los Angeles with the help of 19 points from Tyler Johnson, 14 points from James Johnson and 17 points from Ellington.

And don’t think it happened by coincidence.

“With Tyler and myself, we were upset we didn’t contribute the way we could have [against the Nuggets],” Ellington said in advance of Monday night’s Heat game against the Warriors at Oracle Arena, the third contest on the six-game road trip. “So, we sat on the plane on the way here and we watched film and we talked about it, and we made a conscious effort that we were going to be better. We were going to be ourselves and that’s the way approached it.”

Miami Heat forward James Johnson, left, dunks as Los Angeles Clippers center Willie Reed defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

But for the Heat, the bench is an evolving weapon. With coach Erik Spoelstra still figuring out his rotation, 10 different players have already received starts over the first nine games of the season.

That has left some still trying to find their place on the roster, whether it’s on the bench or in the starting lineup. Just take a look at forward Okaro White, who has received a DNP-coach’s decision in three games but also has made three starts this season.

“It can be difficult for a player, but at the same time you know when we started training camp we put our hands in and said we’re going to be all in and lead at all levels,” White said. “Whether you’re not getting playing time or playing 30 minutes a game, we all made a pact we were all in. We all have to be professional and be ready when your name is called.”

Led by the Johnsons, Ellington and Kelly Olynyk, the Heat’s bench entered Monday ranked 12th with 38.2 points per game. That’s not far off from last season’s average of 38.6 points per game, which was the eighth-most in the league.

And based on recent play, Miami has a chance to surpass that number this year. The Heat’s reserves have looked more comfortable lately, averaging 44.0 points over the past four games.

One thing is for sure, the bench will play a big part in the Heat’s success (or lack thereof). Miami is 3-1 when its reserves have combined to score 40 or more points this season, with the only slip up coming in an overtime loss to the Timberwolves on Oct. 30.

“Without question,” Ellington said when asked if he feels the Heat’s bench is one of the best in the NBA. “I feel like we proved that last year. It’s just a matter of this year continuing to put it together and grow together. It’s just a matter of time. We have some serious weapons.”

[A look at Sunday’s Willie Reed-Miami Heat reunion]

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