MIAMI – The last week has given us a glimpse of the Miami Heat team we are going to see in the playoffs.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has pared down his rotation to nine primary players with others like Bam Adebayo, Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt the security blankets.
With everyone healthy – and that has been a challenge for the Heat the last two seasons – Spoelstra will start Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside. That five has started nine games with the Heat going 5-4 in those games.
But the numbers when those players are on the court are startling.
That five has played 159 minutes together and has a plus-minus of a minus-30, which of third worst of all the five-man combinations used by the Heat this season.
Spoelstra is not a big fan of plus-minus statistic and will not allow it to influence his decisions. But by using this starting five he can keep a consistent second unit together of Dwyane Wade, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk and Justise Winslow. That four usually is on the floor with one of the starters or Adebayo.
The Heat have started the last two games completely healthy with the exception of Dion Waiters. Babbitt was inactive both games and in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Bulls, Adebayo, McGruder, Jordan Mickey and Udonis Haslem did not play.
“We’re healthy,” Spoelstra said. “We didn’t necessarily tighten up. We played a nine-man rotation.”
McGruder and Adebayo played in Thursday’s victory over the Bulls. McGruder entered late in the second quarter after Tyler Johnson rolled his ankle. McGruder then started the second half in Johnson’s spot.
Adebayo was called on during the first quarter of that game, after Olynyk picked up his second foul.
Spoelstra has tried to get to this rotation several times in the last five weeks. He had his entire complement of players (minus Waiters) for the first time on Feb. 27 but Ellington and Tyler Johnson both left that game after suffering thigh bruises.
The entire group was back on March 8 and finished that game but two days later Whiteside strained his left hip flexor during shootaround and Wade left that night’s game with a mild hamstring strain.
Finally, on the 76th and 77th games of the season, the Heat had all 14 of the 15 players on the roster available at the start for the first time in consecutive games this season. All are expected to be there again tonight when the Heat face the Hawks with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
Still, that does not give Spoelstra comfort. Mickey was called on to start against Cleveland last week when Whiteside and Adebayo were unavailable. This is what he said he told Mickey recently as players were returning.
“The rotation is pretty much set right now but things will happen,” he said. “I’ve been around this league long enough that something will happen.”