MIAMI – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is not afraid to tinker with lineups, we’ve learned that about the coach over the last decade.
So when he goes with the same starters for three consecutive games (and it might have been five had Dion Waiters not missed two games because of the birth of his daughter) that’s a pretty good trend.
“It’s certainly compelling enough to continue like this,” Spoelstra said. “There’s some very good things with that starting unit. We just continue to need to build a consistent 48-minute game.”
Spoelstra inserted Justise Winslow at the power forward spot in Los Angeles against the Clippers. Two games later Waiters rejoined the team. Now, that lineup has been together for three games, winning the first two before dropping a 112-103 decision at Detroit in the finale of a six-game road trip.
“We’re still trying to figure it out,” Winslow said. “I don’t think the starting lineup is set in stone yet (but) this is the rhythm, the flow that coach wants to get into.”
Those five starters – Goran Dragic, Waiters, Josh Richardson, Winslow and Hassan Whiteside – have been the most productive of the six Spoelstra has used in the first 13 games.
And Spoelstra will roll out the same lineup Wednesday when the Heat (6-7) host the Wizards (8-5) at 7:30 p.m.
While Dragic and Richardson are the lone players to start every game, the revolving door has been at power forward. Winslow is the fourth different player to start at the position joining Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson and Okaro White.
At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, Winslow is able to slide over to power forward in a league that is become smaller and more and more positionless. His role, though, changes from when he was coming off the bench and facilitating offense playing with Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington and Olynyk.
Now, he’s in a lineup with three players – Dragic, Waiters and Richardson – who can play the point.
“I’m off the ball a little bit more,” Winslow said. “That’s something I’ve had to learn to do especially since college. College I wasn’t the point but I had the ball a little bit more. Rookie year was that transition for me. Still kind of working it out, trying to figure it out but those guys are great playmakers, unselfish. The ball’s going to find the open guy. It’s just a little different when I’m making the plays versus other people, just kind of got to feel it out.”
Winslow’s numbers during this small sample size of a season have been better in the eight games he’s played coming off the bench. Although his averages are just slightly better – 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds as a reserve compared to 6.0 points and 5.0 boards as a starter – Winslow’s shooting has been markedly better as a reserve.
Coming off the bench he is making half of his shots (25 of-50) but as a starter that percentage dips to .324.
“Certain guys have certain preferences, for me, I’ve done both,” Winslow said. “I’m not really sure which one I like more. I just try to make a difference out there to help my teammates.”
Yet, this starting five has been the Heat’s best lineup so far this season, outscoring opponents by a team-best 29 points in the 40 minutes they have played together.
Dragic, for one, hopes the issue of a starting lineup is settled so that group can develop some chemistry.
“It helps because you know what everybody is doing, what you can expect from guys and you feel more comfortable out there,” Dragic said when asked how helpful it is to have a consistent starting five and bench rotation.
“That cannot give you guarantees that every night, you’re going to have a good game. But still, at least you know what kind of plays you can run for some guys. … It’s just a matter of time when we figure out those things (but) the starting lineup is looking a little bit better.”