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.”

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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.”

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

Miami’s Goran Dragic (right) and San Antonio’s Pau Gasol meet on the court for the first time since Dragic’s Slovenia team defeated Gasol’s Spain team in the EuroBasket.

MIAMI – The most stunning victory in Slovenia’s march to the EuroBasket championship this summer was over powerhouse Spain in the semifinals.

Slovenia, with tournament MVP Goran Dragic as its leader, defeated a team with NBA players Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio and Willy Hernangomez, 92-72.

Even Dragic was surprised by the convincing victory.

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“We went for the win, of course we didn’t imagine it would be 20 points,” said Dragic, who tied for team-high honors with 15 points and added six rebounds and five assists in the game. “But we were in such a good rhythm. We played our best basketball of the tournament (in that game). We were confident we could beat Spain.”

Dragic and Pau Gasol are back on the court tonight for the first time since when the Heat face the Spurs. Dragic, 31, and Gasol, 37, have been competing for a long time both in the NBA and internationally.

“Huge respect,” Dragic said. “I think he can be a Hall of Famer. He won multiple titles in Europe and in the NBA. He’s still playing at a high level and you can see that he’s taking care of his body and he’s all in. You can only respect players like him that put so much of their game and into their life of basketball and he’s a great player.”

Dragic was drafted by the Spurs in the second round in 2008 and two days later traded to the Suns. He remembers talking to NBA scouts during a European camp but is not sure if he was interviewed by the Spurs. He does remember working out for the Suns.

But he has followed the Spurs partly because his former teammate, Rasho Nesterovic, now the president of the Slovenian Federation, played for San Antonio and won a championship in 2005.

Dragic admires what coach Gregg Popovich has done and how the Spurs have won five titles since 1998-99.

“It’s the structure. You can see it,” Dragic said. “The coaching staff does an amazing job. They have a system the players are comfortable in and they’re not going away from that. They play kind of like a European style of basketball.”

Dragic isn’t the only fan of the Spurs’ success and system, which has them 3-0  even with start Kawhi Leonard sidelined because of a quad injury.

“It’s remarkable what they do and how they reinvent themselves every year,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The faces change but their standards and excellence remain the same. Now they’re doing it retro and totally old school the way people said you can’t do it. And they’re doing it by still building a top caliber defense not playing with incredible pace and not playing with the three-point line right now. Playing with post-up, back-to-the-basket options and they’re still beating everybody. They’re averaging less than 20 three-point attempts a game, averaging No. 1 in post ups. These are numbers from the 90s.

“You just have to credit Pop and their program and the players they like in their program and their adaptability that allows them to sustain that excellence.”

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Lamar Odom on Heat: ‘If you have talent and you go to Miami, it’s going to be maximized’

Lamar Odom on the Miami Heat: ‘If you don’t go hard, you can’t play there. That’s why I respect their program and their tradition and their style of basketball even to this day.’ (Photo Getty Images)

Lamar Odom played one season with the Miami Heat, but it was a season that shaped the rest of Odom’s career and even how he watches basketball today.

Odom, in an interview with Shams Charania of The Vertical, spoke about his career, including his disappointment over being traded by the Lakers in 2011, and the impact the Heat and president Pat Riley had on his life.

Odom, 37, signed with the Heat in 2003 and after one season was part of the trade with the Lakers in which the Heat acquired Shaquille O’Neal.

Although Odom was happy to return to Los Angeles – he spent his first four years with the Clippers before coming to Miami – he realized he left an organization that is able to bring out the best in their players.

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Odom told The Vertical he had never worked out before training camp before signing with the Heat and that he “learned how to play hard and what playing hard was,” during his season in Miami.

“There was one game when we played in Puerto Rico against the 76ers, and I shot the ball bad,” Odom said. “But I had a lot of rebounds, had two ‘and-ones’ in crunch time, and I was like, ‘Damn.’ I was down. Pat runs up to me, reads me the stat line, and says, ‘Yeah, O. I like that (expletive). I like how hard you went.’

“In Miami, if you don’t go hard, you can’t play there. That’s why I respect their program and their tradition and their style of basketball even to this day, even though they didn’t make it to the playoffs last year. Because I played there and I understand them, I can still watch them. I know what they’re going through in practice. They’re getting pushed to the limit. So if you have talent and you go to Miami, it’s going to come out and be maximized.

“We had (Dwyane) Wade, Caron (Butler), Eddie Jones, Rasual Butler, Rafer Alston, Brian Grant. We had a good nucleus. We had a gritty team, blue-collar. I took the Heat philosophy for my whole career. When I watch basketball now, I watch it through the eyes of somebody that played for the Heat.”

Odom averaged 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds during his one season in Miami after signing his six-year, $65 million deal. He and Wade led the Heat to the second round of the playoffs.

But when the Shaq-Kobe Bryant relationship soured Riley swooped in and offered the Lakers anybody on the roster, except Wade.

Odom, Caron Butler and Grant were headed to L.A.

Odom spent seven seasons with the Lakers, where he teamed with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to win two titles. His career, and life, spiraled out of control after leaving the Lakers. Odom has gone public about his issues with drug use which included a life-threatening drug overdose in a Las Vegas brothel in October 2015. Odom suffered multiple strokes, kidney failure and was in a coma and on life support.

He says now he is lucky to be alive.

The Heat also benefited from the Odom trade as Wade and Shaq led Miami to its first title in 2006.

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