MIAMI — With center Hassan Whiteside back from injury, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has a few difficult decisions ahead of him. And when power forward James Johnson eventually returns from injury, those decisions are going to get even tougher.
How will Spoelstra find consistent minutes for four big men who deserve them — Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, Whiteside and Johnson?
“I hope I have some of these tough decisions now, where we have great options and guys that can produce, guys that are comfortable,” said Spoelstra, turning his attention to Friday’s home game against the Nets. “That’s the way it should be. To do what we want to do, it should be very competitive for minutes, and guys shouldn’t just be gifted minutes, but expected to produce. I think it’ll all work out, because of the skill set. I just need to figure out what the best fits are for each guy.”
With Whiteside back after a 13-game injury absence and Johnson still out with right ankle bursitis, Spoelstra started Olynyk at power forward next to Whiteside in the Heat’s win over the Magic on Tuesday. It marked the first minutes the two 7-footers have played together since the Oct.18 season-opening loss to Orlando.
The Heat (18-16) outscored the Magic by six points in the 13 minutes the Whiteside-Olynyk combo was on the court Tuesday.
But with Whiteside limited to 17 minutes, 42 seconds in his return from a bone bruise on his left knee, it was the duo of Olynyk and Adebayo that shined. With Olynyk and Adebayo playing together, the Heat outscored the Magic by 24 points in 13 minutes.
“Right now, I think it’s easy to see that Bam and K.O. is really a fun dynamic,” Spoelstra said. “They play well off each other. Guys like playing with those two guys. Their skill sets complement each other. So we’ll be able to build on the other ones, as well.”
That’s just a continuation of the duo’s success, as Miami is plus-32 in the 140 minutes they’ve been on the court together this season. With Olynyk’s unique ability to play on the perimeter as a 7-footer and Adebayo’s athleticism and ability to finish at the rim, the pairing has worked.
“You can tell they’ve had a lot of reps together now,” Heat guard Wayne Ellington said. “They’re starting to get used to each other. They both can pass the ball extremely well. It’s fun for guards to play with those guys. They’re always looking to set the screen. Bam can get to the rim and K.O. opens things up with his 3-point ability. It’s tough for teams to guard those guys when they’re in there together.”
Adebayo, the 20-year-old Heat rookie, averaged 8.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 25.3 minutes during Whiteside’s 13-game absence. Olynyk averaged 11.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 28.1 minutes during that stretch.
Those minutes will go down with Whiteside back, but Adebayo and Olynyk have proven they both deserve big roles in the Heat’s rotation even when the roster is healthy. That’s something Adebayo, in particular, has had to work for as he has not played in seven of the 16 games Whiteside has been available for this season.
Whatever Spoelstra decides with the Heat’s power rotation, it’s a good problem to have.
“It’s really unique,” Heat guard Goran Dragic said. “Like I said, when H comes back, then it’s scary because the first unit with H and then, I don’t know, Bam coming from the bench and K.O. You have so many weapons on your team that you can play really strong. You can see the second unit, they were amazing tonight. They just built that lead and that’s what we’re expecting in the future. It’s going to be easier for us.”