Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters all sat out the Heat’s 117-115 victory over the Washington Wizards, which allowed rookie Bam Adebayo to have his best game of the preseason and Jordan Mickey to win the game with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer Wednesday night.
Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington, Okaro White and Kelly Olynyk started the game and were up against a formidable Wizards lineup that included John Wall, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat. The result was the Heat falling behind 30-19 after the first quarter and depending on Adebayo, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson to bring them back.
Adebayo led the Heat with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and Tyler Johnson added 14. Mickey finished with 12. Mickey’s shot triggered a celebration from the Heat as good as any in the regular season.
“You’d rather have a close game just for the emotion, the passion,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They feel everything, every whistle, blown coverage, every missed shot, heartbeat goes up. You can’t replicate that in practice.”
The Heat wrap up the preseason Friday in Kansas City, Mo., with a game against Philadelphia. The regular season starts Wednesday in Orlando.
Here are our three takeaways:
Bam breaks out: Okay, it’s just preseason but it was significant for Adebayo. The Heat’s first-round draft pick appears to be over the jitters and had his best game by far. Of course, that was not hard considering he entered the game with just nine points and six rebounds in four games, including missing all but one of his 10 shots from the field.
Adebayo scored seven points during one 79-second stretch of the second quarter with two post-ups against Gortat – including a three-point play after drawing the foul – and a dunk on lob pass from McGruder. He had a similar dunk on a feed from James Johnson in the second half. Adebayo received his biggest ovation in the fourth quarter when he slammed the ball home on a baseline cut.
The 6-foot-10 big man admitted to being nervous in his debut, one in which he missed 7-of-8 free throws, and on Monday he was surprised to hear his name called by Spoelstra in the first half, something Spoelstra said he did purposely to drive home the point that he has to be ready at all times.
“He was a thousand times better in the second quarter,” Spoelstra said. “He knew it was coming, he knew he was going to play. I was going to try to trick him somehow just to keep him off balanced. He was so ready. And you see the athleticism, the toughness, the multiple efforts that he brings. True vertical threat.”
Johnson & Johnson back together: It’s looking more and more like James Johnson will come off the bench and be reunited with buddy Tyler Johnson as the leaders of the second unit. Even with 60 percent of the starting lineup having the night off, Spoelstra opted to bring both off the bench and they sparked a 14-4 run to open the second quarter.
Both played 18:17 and were on the court together the entire time. James finished with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists while Tyler had 14 points, three rebounds and three assists.
James said that chemistry comes from, “working on it in practice, taking practice serious, every little detail in that we just don’t run it because coaches want us to do it, we run it with a meaning and a purpose every time. We kind of know each other from that.”
While James seemed in a funk the first two games, both starts, he has looked like a different player since coming in as a reserve. Tyler has been one of the Heat’s most consistent performers from the get-go.
James was 2-of-9 from the floor and has as many assists (three) as turnovers while starting the first two games. In the past three games, he has scored 22 points with 14 rebounds and 12 assists and has admitted he is more in his “comfort zone.”
Winslow still finding his way: Justise Winslow has had a rough preseason shooting the ball and it continued Wednesday. But after logging the majority of his minutes at power forward during the preseason, the third-year forward from Duke appeared comfortable Wednesday facilitating the offense.
Winslow finished with nine assists and six rebounds. In the two games prior to Wednesday, he had just three assists and as many turnovers (five) as points. Four of those points came in the final seconds of Monday’s game against Charlotte in which Spoelstra left him on the court, hoping to instill confidence after he emptied his bench. On Wednesday, Winslow assisted on a Derrick Walton Jr. three with 36 seconds to give the Heat a one-point lead.
“It felt good,” Winslow said. “The shot didn’t fall but I found a way to get into rhythm, enjoying my teammates knocking down shot. Just trying to play make out there.”
Winslow missed his first six shots Wednesday before hitting a corner 3 for his first field goal. He finishing with seven points on 1-of-7 shooting.
Dragic’s grandfather, Mijodrag Dragic, died Aug. 25, a week before the tournament started. He was 82. Goran then played the entire tournament with a heavy heart. … and a thick beard to honor his grandfather.
And when he led underdog Slovenia on an improbable run capped by a 93-85 win over Serbia in the Sept. 17 Gold Medal game, Goran’s grandfather was on his mind.
“I thought of him a lot,” Dragic said. “Every game, before the game. Even on my shoes. Even now.
“I always would say ‘hello’ and say ‘OK, grandpa, let’s have a good game together.’’’
Dragic, who averaged 22.6 points, 5.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds while leading Slovenia to a 9-0 record in the tournament, started growing his beard to honor his grandfather. In many cultures, family and close friends will not shave for 40 days as a sign of mourning.
The 40-day period ended Wednesday and Dragic shaved soon after.
Dragic, though, still has his grandfather’s name written on his shoes along with the date he died and ‘R.I.P.’
“You appreciate what he did,” Dragic said. “Honor him and to mourn. You don’t watch TV, you don’t listen to music. I didn’t go through all this because I was playing games. The music is in the gym so it’s a hard thing to go.
“This is a specific thing where I focused on the beard.”
Mijodrag Dragic lived in Bosnia. Goran saw his grandfather twice during the summer and briefly left his team to be with family when his grandfather died.
Mijodrag never saw his grandson play an NBA game live because he was afraid to fly. He did see Goran play a couple of times when the Slovenian national team was in Serbia. Goran said playing Serbia in the Gold Medal game of the EuroBasket was special because his father’s family is from the region. He scored 35 points in the title game, the most scored in a single game in the history of the Slovenian national team.
“I went through some hard times,” Dragic said. “I’m happy I was in Bosnia (during the summer) when he was alive.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra has limited Dragic during the preseason to allow him more time to recover after Slovenia’s run to the championship. Dragic started practice Aug. 1 and had just eight days between the end of the tournament and start of training camp.
Dragic sat out the last two preseason games after playing 37 minutes in the first two games and is not expected to play in tonight’s final home preseason game against Washington.
The Heat conclude the preseason Friday with a game in Kansas City against Philadelphia and open the regular season in one week against Orlando.
“It’s just trying to be fresh for the season,” Dragic said. “That’s the main thing, try to be hungry for those games. And we decided not to play those last two games. You know, it helps me a little bit to recover, to get back to being that hungry guy again.”
“It was just a little sore, but it was nothing,” Johnson said. “I could have continued to play if I wanted. Spo is just being cautious. … preseason. But it’s nothing to worry about it.”
Johnson was one of the lone bright spots in the first two preseason games with 35 points and 12 rebounds in 40 minutes. With Spoelstra still tinkering with starting lineups, one thing is certain, Johnson will continue to come off the bench, a role in which he thrived a year ago averaging 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists.
“I feel like I’m most comfortable and best suited the team in my role in coming off the bench,” Johnson said. “Obviously if something came up and it was a necessity to be out there in a starting lineup then cool. But as the way things have been going especially during the preseason, that’s just the role he feels more comfortable having me at and I feel most comfortable at.”
MIAMI – Heat power forward James Johnson admitted Monday he’s more comfortable coming off the bench.
Johnson struggled in Miami’s first two preseason games, both of which he started, and showed more life in his two games as a reserve, including Monday’s win over the Hornets. In both games, Kelly Olynyk got the start at power forward alongside center Hassan Whiteside.
“I think it was my comfort zone,” said Johnson, who came off the bench for all but five of his 76 games last season. “Just being comfortable in what we did last year and playing with those guys. It’s something I’ve got to work on. I’ve got a new role when I start and I’ve just got to figure it out and figure out to be better.”
With coach Erik Spoelstra not committed yet to either lineup, Johnson, one of the team’s most versatile players, said he’s got to do even more if he winds up in the starting lineup.
“More rebounding,” he said. “I’ve got to do more different things to contribute to that first unit. That’s what I’m talking about working on. I need to help Hassan rebound. That also allows my bust outs and lets (Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters) run the floor. Then I can get us into sets from there. Other than that, let them handle the ball and be who they are.”
Johnson scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting in the first two games. He played 39 minutes, missed all four of his 3-point shots and had three assists and three turnovers. His minus-19 was the worst of the team.
Spoelstra said he saw a big improvement the last two games as Johnson played 51 minutes, scoring 21 points, with eight rebounds and eight assists with just one turnover.
“He came in with a tremendous amount of energy and showed his dynamic versatility,” Spoelstra said following Saturday’s game in Orlando. “He was making plays off the dribble. He was setting other guys up. He was guarding 1 through 4.
“JJ at his best does so many different things that help your team. Some of them show up on box scores some of them don’t. He was much more comfortable last game.
“I’m not concerned about JJ. He’s so selfless right now. He’s trying to make sure everybody else feels comfortable.”
Although the position is a work in progress, Johnson sounded as if his vote would be for Olynyk to start.
“I love it,” he said about a lineup with 7-footers Olynyk and Whiteside. “I love the way Kelly plays and I think he’s a good attribute to Hassan out there. He rebounds, plays hard, he’s physical. I think that’s the main reason why Hassan was able to get a lot more rebounds. Guys are trying to keep Kelly off the boards.”
Spoelstra was asked what he thought about the two big men playing side-by-side.
“I don’t really look at it that way,” he said. “Kelly has a different skill set and his ability to shoot and play make off the dribble. We like that. We feel that’s a great fit and can be a good fit with our second unit or he can play alongside Hassan.”
Saturday marked the first time this preseason they were on the floor together.
“It’s not like we went with two power centers and are trying to beat somebody up down low circa 1995,” Spoelstra said. “That wasn’t the lineup at all. The more important thing was I thought their skill set complements each other and having Kelly out there regardless of the lineup helps your flow because of his IQ and his unique skill set.”
The starters were on the floor together for about 15 minutes on Saturday. The result was much better in the second half as the unit went on an 11-0 run early in the third quarter and outscored the Magic, 17-8, before Spoelstra went to his bench. On Monday, that group outscored the Hornets by seven points combined at the start of the game and second half.
The drive between Portland, Maine, and Boston can get pretty boring if you have to do it over and over and over again.
Sure, the route takes you near the Maine coastline, through Portsmouth, N.H. and over the Merrimack River near Newburyport, Mass. Not the most boring in the world.
But when you make that round trip 21 times over 18 months like the Heat’s Jordan Mickey did, you get to know more about the route than you would ever need. … like the rest stop with the best Burger King or the pizza joint outside of Portland that gave Mickey a discount.
“I got pretty familiar with it,” he said about the 1-hour, 45-minute drive.
Mickey signed with the Heat this summer after spending two seasons with the Celtics. During that time he was assigned to the Maine Red Claws and recalled 42 times. That’s 21 round trips on the 110-mile stretch between Portland and Boston, or 2,310 miles, roughly the distance between Miami and Phoenix.
The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward learned to accept the roller coaster ride between the NBA and the developmental league.
“At first it was a little discouraging but it’s just part of the process,” he said. “A lot of guys in (the Heat) locker room did the same thing when it came to the D League. At the time I was enjoying being able to go down there and play and work on my game.
“When I got called back up if I got called to play or if I was just called back up to fill a spot I was happy to be back with my team.”
Mickey is right. Players like Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Okaro White have spent time in what is now the G League. Not everybody works their way to the NBA, but this group has become part of the Heat’s core.
“I had to think about it like I’m going to there to play, not just for the Celtics, I’m playing for every team in the league,” Mickey said. “This summer when I got waived a lot of teams called and the first thing a lot of them said is they did see me play in the D League and they liked my game.
“I just tried to keep it professional as possible and go down there and play and enjoy and show energy and enthusiasm.”
The Heat signed Mickey to a $1.5 million guaranteed contract after he was released by the Celtics. Coach Erik Spoelstra pointed out his style fits in well with the Heat’s.
“The things that he does are historically things we like,” Spoelstra said. “He’s an active big. He’s a shot-blocking big. He’s a presence in the paint. He’s improved his game now where he has the ability to stretch the floor and shoot the basketball, as well. But he’s one of those effort, energy defensive guys that we tend to like.”
Mickey has played about 10 ½ minutes in two preseason games, making both of his shots and contributing a rebound and two blocked shots.
This does not mean he may not be asked to spend more time in the G League to further develop his game.
But one thing is certain, with the Heat’s affiliate, Sioux Falls, more than 1,800 miles away, he will not be become familiar with those roads as he has with the pavement between Portland and Boston.
That reason, says the Miami Heat shooting guard, has a lot to do with peace of mind that came with signing a four-year, $52 million contract in July.
“Once you know where you’re going to be, everything else is easy, the basketball part, that’s the easy part,” said Waiters, 25, and entering his sixth season. “You know everything already here, the system, the coaches. You already know what to expect. So that’s the easy part. Now it’s just getting going.”
After scoring seven points and handing out four assists in the Heat’s preseason opener Sunday, Waiters, like most of his teammates, struggled on Thursday’s loss at Brooklyn, making just 1-of-8 shots. The Heat play their third preseason game tonight in Orlando (7 p.m., Fox Sports Sun.)
Waiters admitted he was out of shape last season, entering camp around 235 pounds. But he did not sign until late in the free agent process, July 26.
This year – after re-signing with Miami within the first week of free agency – he’s around 220 pounds.
“Even though I was limited to what I normally would do during the summer (because of the ankle), I made sure I ate right and I made sure I ran,” Waiters said. “Once it started feeling better that’s when I started easing myself into doing a lot of things I normally would do.
“My most important thing was working and really trying to find different ways to get better even though I was limited. I know coming in I had to be in shape. … I made sure I worked. Smart though. This time I had to work smart.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra is pleased with Waiters’ conditioning.
“He’s been moving well, he’s in good condition and he’s been showing that burst of speed,” Spoelstra said.
Justise Winslow remains one of the most dissected players on the Miami Heat and that likely will not change anytime soon. And most of that focus is on Winslow’s outside shot, one that has been spotty since his arrival.
Now, Heat fans are anxious to see how that shot is coming along. We answer that and more in our latest mailbag. If you weren’t able to ask a question, send them in for future mailbags via Twitter to @Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44.
From @PurpleBuckets: How’s Winslow’s jumper look at training camp?
One thing is for sure, Winslow has been working hard on his jumper. He talked about all the extra work he put in during the summer and that has continued early in the preseason. We are not allowed into practice until the very end but without fail, Winslow is one of the last players off the court, hoisting jumper after jumper.
Winslow’s shot, though, remains a work in progress. As far as how it’s looked in practice, that tough for us to determine. In two preseason games, though, he’s made 5-of-13 shots, most of those at the rim. I’m still not sure Winslow ever will become known for his outside shot, but he needs to get to where opponents at least respect that jumper and that means improving on his career 40 percent shooting, and certainly on the unacceptable 34.5 percent he shot in limited time last season.
The Heat remain high on Winslow. He’s a versatile, well-rounded player who now is showing his value by playing more of a point power forward. Those skills have been on display in the first two preseason games. Playing with the second team, which I believe is a better spot for him, he’s shown his ball handling and passing skills and ability to get to the rim.
Winslow has acknowledged his shortcoming with the outside shot and has confidence he will improve.
Only time will tell.
From Olivia in Orlando: Why doesn’t Whiteside get any respect around the league.
Did Hassan put you up to this because that is one of his biggest beefs? Whiteside will say it doesn’t bother him any longer; that he’s become numb to being doubted. But deep down he must wonder what he has to do to receive some respect around the league.
The league’s GMs were asked to name the best center on the league and eight different players received at least one vote, none went to Whiteside. The biggest insult was Golden State’s Draymond Green, a power forward, received a vote.
Coach Erik Spoelstra certainly did not agree, saying “that’s ridiculous, I don’t care what anybody else says. Hassan is one of the best centers in this league. Fact. Period.” Spo had the best explanation, saying the Heat got off to such a poor start last season that nobody was watching. And when Miami turned it around and people started noticing is was too late.
The best way to remedy that and for Whiteside to receive more recognition: Win more games and more people will notice.
MIAMI – Coach Erik Spoelstra tipped his hand in the Heat’s preseason opener against the Hawks Sunday with a starting lineup that featured Rodney McGruder at small forward and James Johnson at power forward and an entertaining, versatile second unit.
And with just five preseason games remaining starting tonight at Brooklyn, Spoelstra doesn’t have as much time as usual to get his team ready for start of the regular season.
“I’m going to look at some lineups, continue to install, try to continue to build our identity and see if we can hammer those things in in 10 days,” Spoelstra said.
Typically, the Heat have played eight preseason games. But with camp shortened by one week most teams have cut down on preseason games. Some will play as few as three.
The Heat will squeeze their final five games into nine days, playing every other day until Oct. 13.
“Our guys got to play (but) nobody will play a full complement of minutes,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t even know if I’ll do a full dress rehearsal.
“As long as guys are getting in better rhythm, a better feel for each other, understanding fully what our identity is, how we want to play. … And each guy’s role within that. Those are the things I’ll be looking for.”
Having a team in which virtually every key player from last season returns helps in a condensed preseason.
“The top 10 or 11 guys. … we’re able to basically review the offense from last year,” Spoelstra said. “Not that they knew it absolutely lock step like we had it last year but it was a review, it wasn’t teaching and installing new compared to last year’s training camp
“You can see the guys that were here last year that played in that first preseason game you could see where they felt a fairly decent comfort level.”
MIAMI – Whether it was point-center Kelly Olynyk leading the break or Josh Richardson hustling to block a shot or Wayne Ellington with a quick-trigger three, the Miami Heat’s second unit made its presence known Sunday.
Coach Erik Spoelstra is onto something with this five of Tyler Johnson, Ellington, Richardson, Justise Winslow and Olynyk. This hybrid group made its debut during Miami’s victory over Atlanta in the preseason opener and the most common word used to describe the experience:
“It’s really, really tough to defend and it’s fun to play,” said Olynyk, who made his Heat preseason debut in the game.
“Everybody can handle it. Everybody can move, pass, shoot, dribble. Everybody is touching the ball. Everybody is in a flow and into the game. It’s super tough to guard because you don’t know who is doing what. It’s unscripted. You can’t scout it.”
The Heat are one week into the preseason and the plan is coming together. With Rodney McGruder returning to his spot in the starting lineup, that gives Spoelstra a second unit that could be a matchup nightmare.
The lineup has two players who have played the point (Johnson, Richardson), three who have seen time at shooting guard (Johnson, Ellington, Richardson), three with minutes at small forwards (Ellington, Richardson, Winslow), two power forward types (Winslow, Olynyk) and a center in Olynyk who had nine points, eight rebounds, five assists and took two 3 pointers in the win.
“That’s really what the league is about, finding mismatches and versatility, having different options,” Winslow said. “Just the uniqueness of having two really different lineups can help us.”
Winslow then added: “That second group can be special for this team.”
Ellington, who launched six 3-pointers, making two, described Olynyk as the “trigger.” The 7-footer was signed in July to do just that, display a versatility that gives the Heat the option of using him as a change-of-pace center behind Hassan Whiteside or a stretch four alongside Whiteside.
“Guys were enjoying making plays for other people,” Olynyk said. “That’s not always the case in this league. Guys want to score. But out there you’re trying to find shooters, find other guys, put guys in position to succeed. I think that’s what that second unit does really well.”
Ellington compared the style to the Warriors when they go small and stick 6-7 Draymond Green at center.
“But (Green) doesn’t shoot it as well as Kelly,” Ellington said.
The group played together for eight minutes during the first half and about two minutes at the end of the third quarter.
The second half stint was entertaining with Olynyk feeding Ellington and Richardson for layups. Miami ended the quarter on a 10-3 run.
Johnson and Richardson led the Heat in scoring with 14 and 12 points, respectively. The unit shot 19-of-36, including Ellington’s 3-of-10.
“There are some good things we want to build on that we saw,” Spoelstra said.
Starting point guard Goran Dragic said having a reliable second unit is “a luxury” in the NBA.
“The second unit is a little bit different,” he said. “It gives you a different side. They are more aggressive, they spread the floor, they run. We can do that, too, but they really can do it. You have a lot of options.”
And Spoelstra can go even deeper if he wants. Rookie Bam Adebayo and second-year man Okaro White are the next two men on the bench and both are versatile bigs who can run the floor.
Of course, the depth also will come in handy when injuries occur and the Heat know how that can be after leading the league with 328 games lost to injuries and illness last season.
“I think it’s really going to keep us fresh,” Ellington said. “I think it’s really going to be an advantage. It’s a long season. So to be able to be that deep, (be) that versatile and that dynamic, that just makes us a different team.”