Miami Heat defense far from standard coach Erik Spoelstra has set

MIAMI – This is not what the Heat expected after four games:

A defensive rating of 107.1, 22nd in the league.

Allowing 108.5 points per game, 19th in the league.

Not after both of those numbers were fifth best last season and Miami brought back virtually the entire team from 2016-17.

“We just need to get just a little bit more acquainted with each other,” James Johnson said following Miami’s 117-100 loss to the Spurs on Wednesday.

“Maybe a little bit more talking, a little bit more eye to communication. The Spurs are a great team and they taught us a lot about ourselves.”

LaMarcus Aldridge of the San Antonio Spurs posts up James Johnson of the Miami Heat during Wednesday’s game at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Yes, training camp was shortened this year, but shouldn’t three weeks of preseason and one week of the regular season be enough for that ‘getting-to-know-you’ period? Especially for a team returning 11 players from last season’s roster?

And just when the Heat appeared to be improving defensively holding the Hawks to 93 points Monday, along come the Spurs, who shoot 55.3 percent while rolling out a 1980s style front line of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol.

How bad was the defense? Consider last season the Heat allowed an opponent to shoot better than 55.3 percent once. … and just barely. Cleveland made 55.4 percent of its shots on Dec. 9. And this was a Heat team that started 11-30.

Plus, that was on the road and Miami had eight available players that game. This was at home against a team missing its best player in Kawhi Leonard and veteran point guard Tony Parker.

But it wasn’t just the paint where the Heat’s defense shriveled. While big men Aldridge and Gasol were shooting 17-of-28, perimeter players Rudy Gay and Manu Ginobili were coming off the bench to shoot 12-of-12.

“They set the tempo of the game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Post-ups, getting paint catches, pick-and-rolls. We just gave up a ton of easy ones and now they are in their rhythm and then you have to react. Then Rudy Gay started to get going as well and their 3-poiint shooters took over from there.

“We didn’t get a handle on our defense for basically the entire game.”

Johnson, who at 6-foot-8 has started at power forward the last three games, called it a “learning experience” for the Heat’s big men.

“Aldridge is a great player, probably one of the best down on the block and (Wednesday) he gave it to us,” Johnson said. “More showing us where we were at as big men. Letting us know the techniques we really need to play with on a daily basis and practice on a daily basis. He gave us everything tonight and I took a lot of that.”

Perhaps the better way to put it is learning how to play against a bigger team without Hassan Whiteside, because for anybody who believes the Heat do not miss their 7-foot-last-line-of-defense center when he’s out, this was exhibit A.

Sure, Miami can get away with not having Whiteside against Indiana and Atlanta – two teams expected to be on the lower half of the weak East – but against playoff teams, Whiteside needs to be on the court.

Whiteside has missed three games with a bruised bone in his left knee and is it not known if he will return for Saturday’s game against the Celtics.

“We need to learn,” guard Goran Dragic said. “We need to regroup, watch the tape and see what kind of mistakes we did. Of course, it was a different team out there than we used to play. They have a really good post-man. Big. He was scoring at will. But, we need to find a way to play better defense as a team. It’s not only individuals. Everybody needs to help each other.”

[Heat rookie Bam Adebayo’s starting debut a ‘big ask’ against Spurs front line]

[Goran Dragic, Pau Gasol to have EuroBasket reunion tonight when Miami Heat host San Antonio Spurs]

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Heat rookie Bam Adebayo’s starting debut a ‘big ask’ against Spurs front line

MIAMI – This time, Heat rookie Bam Adebayo was prepared.

It may have not looked it, not with Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge finally resembling the $84 million man San Antonio thought it was getting two years ago. But the 20-year-old was not alone in his struggles Wednesday against the five-time All-Star.

Nobody on the Heat could stop Aldridge Wednesday.

Otherwise, Adebayo’s starting debut was a good first step. He had two field goals, both dunks on lob passes, and contributed eight rebounds, one shy of a team high, and a block in 19: 35. One might look at the Heat being outscored by 12 points while he was on the court, but in a 117-100 loss, nobody was taking home this box score for keepsake.

Heat rookie Bam Adebayo being introduced Wednesday for the first time as a starter before Miami’s loss to the Spurs. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“I thought his minutes were solid,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s a big ask to throw him in there against a multi-year All-Star, a guy that has been playing extremely well this year and has a lot of elements to his game that keep you honest.

“I though Bam gave us some energy, some athleticism.”

Much more so than his first preseason game in which he played six minutes and missed 7-of-8 free throws, or when Spoelstra purposely summoned Adebayo in the second quarter (after he had entered in the fourth quarter in three straight games) to face Charlotte’s Dwight Howard during the preseason. Adebayo committed three quick fouls and the Heat were outscored by 10 points in his three minutes.

The lesson: Always be ready.

“It was more like I was prepared for this,” Adebayo said. “I feel like I played well. My teammates, we talk and I was just out there being myself, being active and trying to do everything I could for my team.

“I went out there, played hard, we came up short.

Adebayo was told at the Heat’s morning shootaround he would be starting alongside 6-foot-8 James Johnson down low. With center Hassan Whiteside missing his third game because of a bone bruise on his left knee, Adebayo’s 6-10, 255-pound frame was needed against the Spurs bigger front line of 6-11 Aldridge and 7-0 Pau Gasol.

Aldridge led the Spurs with 31 points and added seven rebounds. Gasol had 13 points and nine boards. They combined to shoot 17-of-28.

But Adebayo, taken with the 14th overall pick after one season at Kentucky, looked at this assignment as if he were facing Florida in March, or even Stephen F. Austin in November.

“It was like every other matchup. … I take it personal,” he said. “(Aldridge) was just making shots. He’s a great player, my hat’s off to him. He was executing, he was making shots.”

Adebayo clearly is a work in progress. He was drafted on the recommendation of Heat vice-president of player personnel, Chet Kammerer, because of his raw ability. His calling card, right now, is defense and rebounding. His offense will take much more time to develop.

Adebayo averaged 6.2 points on 38.7 percent shooting in six preseason games. He had not scored in his only regular season appearance, six minutes in the season opener at Orlando, but made 2-of-6 shots Wednesday and appears to be developing something with the guards, who were looking for him with the lob pass.

“We’re working on that,” Goran Dragic said. “Bam is great at rolling to the hoop and he has that ability to jump high and get those lobs. It’s hard against this kind of team because they’re really good defensively. They know what they’re doing.”

Adebayo’s start means little when it comes to Saturday’s game against Boston, not when the rookie went from sitting for two straight games to starting and Jordan Mickey went from starting two straight game to never leaving the bench Wednesday.

In fact, if Whiteside remains sidelined, Spoelstra has all kinds of options against a Celtics team that starts 6-10 Al Horford and 6-7 Jaylen Brown down low, neither being a huge post presence.

Adebayo was asked what he took away from the experience.

“It’s a building block. … for the whole team,” he said. “We just got to keep stepping in the right direction. It’s a minor setback but we’re going to get practicing and work on it.”

[Erik Spoelstra believes if Heat get to line more often they will knock down their free throws]

[Goran Dragic, Pau Gasol to have EuroBasket reunion tonight when Miami Heat host San Antonio Spurs]

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Tonight’s matchup: Miami Heat face early-season test vs. San Antonio Spurs without Hassan Whiteside

Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (21) dunks over San Antonio Spurs’ Pau Gasol (16) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

SAN ANTONIO SPURS VS. MIAMI HEAT

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.

Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Sun, ESPN/WAXY 790AM, WAQI 710AM (Spanish)

Records: San Antonio 3-0, Miami 2-1

STARTING LINEUPS

Spurs

F: Kyle Anderson

F: LaMarcus Aldridge

C: Pau Gasol

G: Danny Green

G: Dejounte Murray

Heat

F: Josh Richardson

F: James Johnson

C: Bam Adebayo

G: Dion Waiters

G: Goran Dragic

Scouting report: Heat center Hassan Whiteside will miss his third consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left knee, and wing Rodney McGruder is out indefinitely after left tibia surgery. Point guard Goran Dragic will play despite a right thigh bruise, and shooting guard Dion Waiters will play despite lingering left ankle soreness. … The Spurs will also be shorthanded, as All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps tendinopathy), point guard Tony Parker (left quadriceps tendon surgery) and forward Joffrey Lauvergne (sprained right ankle) will miss the contest. … The Spurs have won seven consecutive regular-season matchups with the Heat, a streak that began in the 2013-14 season. … Seven Heat players are averaging double-digit points this season, led by Whiteside (26.0 ppg). Dragic is second with 19.7 points per game … Kelly Olynyk leads the Heat with four charges taken this season, which is three more than any other player on the roster … The Heat’s paint defense has been subpar to start the year, as they entered Tuesday’s slate of games allowing the third-most paint points in the NBA at 52.0 per game. Meanwhile, San Antonio is attempting the second-most shots from within the restricted area this season at 35.7 per game. … San Antonio is 12-1 when Aldridge records 25+ points and 10+ rebounds in a game. Aldridge is averaging 24.3 points and 9.3 rebounds this season.

[Heat 3-point specialist Wayne Ellington has a shadow, and it’s rookie Matt Williams Jr.]

[Finally healthy, Josh Richardson says: ‘I want to dunk on everybody now’]

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If Spurs put LaMarcus Aldridge on the market would Heat be interested?

San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge sits on the bench in the final minutes of the Spurs’ 136-100 loss to Golden State in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Two summers ago the Miami Heat met with LaMarcus Aldridge before the free agent power forward/center signed with San Antonio.

Now, after two seasons with the Spurs, Aldridge once again could be available.

The 6-foot-11 Aldridge signed a four-year, $80 million contract with the Spurs in 2015. But he never really has fit in and trade rumors started a year ago after San Antonio lost in the conference semifinals and Aldridge’s numbers dropped from 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds his final season in Portland to 18.0 points and 8.5 boards his first in San Antonio.

And although San Antonio advanced to the conference finals this year before being swept by Golden State, the five-time All-Star’s numbers took another dip (17.3/7.3) and he didn’t exactly step up after San Antonio lost Kawhi Leonard during Game 1 of the Warriors series.

In the last three games against Golden State, when San Antonio needed Aldridge most with Leonard out, the 31-year-old averaged just 11.3 points on 38.5 percent shooting with 5.3 rebounds. Twice, he scored eight points with the Spurs’ season on the line.

[Josh McRoberts opts in to return to Miami Heat for $6 million salary next season]

[Chris Bosh, Miami Heat could be headed to an amicable final breakup]

The result will be more trade speculation.  And while Aldridge remains one of the upper tier big men in the game, he may not be the fit the Spurs want, and San Antonio may be looking to unload his contract to free up cap space if they pursue Paul Millsap or Chris Paul.

Could the Heat then be in play?

Remember, Riley met with Aldridge in 2015 so there obviously was an interest then. But things have changed. Although Aldridge’s numbers declined some in San Antonio, that was expected playing with Leonard and Tony Parker. And although Aldridge denied reports he was unhappy playing second fiddle to Leonard, would he be a fit playing alongside center Hassan Whiteside? And what if Miami brought back Dion Waiters and gave him more freedom? Aldridge does run the floor very well and can shoot the mid-range jumper.

Also, Aldridge had an “occurrence of a minor heart arrhythmia” in March but was cleared to play and has been fine since.

If interested, the Heat might have a difficult time putting together a package the Spurs would accept. Whiteside is not going anywhere and the Spurs reportedly are interested in Paul or Kyle Lowry to take over for Tony Parker at the point, so Goran Dragic would not be a fit. Then it comes down to Miami’s young players, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and the 14th pick (which Miami cannot trade but could make a prearranged deal and then pick the player San Antonio desires).

Additionally, acquiring Aldridge and his $20 million salary would mean the Heat would no longer need James Johnson but still would have enough money to sign Waiters and, depending on who is traded, another lower-level free agent.

The chances are slim, but if Riley believes Aldridge could fit in and push the Heat to another level you never know.

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San Antonio Spurs rest forward LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Miami Heat

LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs congratulates Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs after he made a shot at the end of the half during game between New Orleans Pelicans and the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on October 29, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs congratulates Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs after he made a shot at the end of the half during game between New Orleans Pelicans and the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on October 29, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

MIAMI — The Heat are the beneficiaries of the Spurs’ busy opening-week schedule.

San Antonio held out forward LaMarcus Aldridge from Sunday’s game against the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. This comes on the second night of a back-to-back set, as the Spurs defeated the Pelicans 98-79 on Saturday night. Continue reading “San Antonio Spurs rest forward LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Miami Heat”

Why Russell Westbrook to the Heat isn’t as crazy as it sounds

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on the court during game one of the NBA Western Conference Final against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on the court during game one of the NBA Western Conference Final against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Russell Westbrook was left “angry and hurt,” according to ESPN, when friend and teammate Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors without so much as a phone call to inform him of his decision.

Though the Thunder did add 24-year-old guard Victor Oladipo this summer, it came at the expense of another of Westbrook’s long-time teammates, Serge Ibaka.

As the team looks to the future, Westbrook has been non-committal to that process, with initial reports stating that there was “no chance” he would sign an extension, according to TNT.

From there, it seemed that the Thunder had turned their attention to trading the 27-year-old point guard, but those plans have halted as Westbrook reportedly doesn’t want to be traded and wants to play out the final year of his contract in Oklahoma City.

With the possibility that Westbrook’s time with the Thunder may be coming to an end, could a new chapter with the Heat be on the horizon?

Despite losing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the past three offseasons, it’s not crazy to think that the Heat have a shot at landing Westbrook. Here are four factors the Heat have working in their favor.

Pat Riley

Anytime that a player is available, whether through free agency or trade, Pat Riley should not be ruled out.

The man that helped construct the Wade-James-Bosh Big Three enters 2016-17 with a roster of unknowns. From the health situation of Chris Bosh to the roles that the Heat’s young players will have, the Heat and Riley won’t be sure what they’ll get out of their roster until the season starts.

While some of his efforts will be put toward making the most of what he currently has, Riley always has an eye on the future. When LeBron James left in 2014, Riley turned his attention to 2016, and although this offseason didn’t work out as he had hoped, it’d be wise to assume that he had a fallback plan. Riley has failed to land the crowning jewels of the past two free-agent classes, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant, on Miami. He did, however, secure meetings with both players when, in reality, he had very little to offer.

Despite the Heat’s perceived shortcomings, it is clear that NBA players respect Pat Riley and that respect could go a long way in helping the Heat land their next franchise superstar.

The possibility of a trade

As mentioned earlier, the Thunder have entertained the idea moving Westbrook in a trade. Though the Heat may not have the assets to pull off a deal for the point guard, they have enough to at least throw their hat in the ring. The Heat have several valuable and controllable pieces, including Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic and Oklahoma native Josh Richardson. In addition to that trio, the Thunder may see value in young pieces like Rodney McGruder, Briante Weber or Willie Reed as the season progresses and their roles expand.

Though the Heat don’t have the drafts picks that other teams looking to trade for Westbrook will have, they still have several pieces that could get a conversation started.

The Heat’s young core

Should the Heat fail to acquire Westbrook’s services via trade, they can still try to add the explosive guard in free agency.

The Heat’s pitch would be simple and it would revolve around their young core. All of the players previously mentioned as potential trade pieces can be used as selling points to lure Westbrook to Miami. Though there may be no resolution to the Bosh blood-clot saga by next summer, the Heat may be in a better position to sell Westbrook on the future. By next offseason, both Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson will have second seasons under their belts, and their young players will all have logged NBA minutes and had a chance to showcase their abilities and potential. As has been shown with Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside, sometimes NBA players just need a chance and some playing time to show their worth.

The Eastern Conference

Between the superteam in Golden State and the powerhouse in San Antonio, the road to the NBA Finals in the Western Conference is a tough one. Throw in the at-times-confusing, but always dangerous Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets and the improved, up-and-coming Memphis Grizzles, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers, and any Western team hoping to make a deep playoff run has its work cut out for it.

Though the Eastern Conference is top heavy, there is upward mobility if a team can add a valuable piece. The Heat can look to sell Westbrook on the vision that he is their missing piece that could help them make a Finals run.

Also, the idea of not having to match up against Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard and Mike Conley may be enticing to Westbrook.