The Heat won 27 consecutive games with Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup this season. Naturally, Erik Spoelstra decided to stick with what worked in February and March and go with Haslem in the starting lineup to begin the playoffs.
Haslem started Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena with Shane Battier coming off the bench. Battier started in the 2012 NBA Finals and there was a belief leading up to the playoffs that Spoelstra would return to that lineup this postseason. He still might at some point, but for now Haslem appears entrenched.
“My job doesn’t change whether I’m starting or coming off the bench or whether it be nine minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes, it really doesn’t matter,” Haslem said. “We’ve really bought into sacrificing time, sacrificing shots, sacrificing minutes, sacrificing shots. It is what it is.”
With a nod to last season’s playoff tradition, Spoelstra waited until late Sunday before disclosing his starting lineup.
During his pregame news conference less than two hours before the game, Spoelstra announced he wasn’t giving away the Heat’s first five until absolutely necessary.
“Is it any different than the way I’ve done it?” Spoelstra asked during his pregame news conference.
It wasn’t until Spoelstra filled out his lineup card 45 minutes before tipoff that the decision was announced via Twitter. Of course, Spoelstra gave a big hint that former starter Shane Battier would still be an important part of the game plan when he stressed the importance of spreading the floor and creating a mismatch against Bucks power forward Larry Sanders.
“We have to see Sanders and make him pay when he comes to block," Spoelstra said.
During last season’s playoffs, the Heat used Battier to clear the paint for hard-driving LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Battier found a home in the corner after adjusting to his new role as starter. He was 23 of 31 from three-point range in the NBA Finals.
"Last year in the playoffs, after [ Chris Bosh] went down, Spo said, ’You’re our new power forward and I don’t want you to do anything but shoot threes," Battier said. "Don’t dribble, don’t run pick and roll, don’t cut, don’t post up. I want you to run as hard as you can every time to the corner and wait for the ball and if you get it, shoot it."
Brandon Jennings received plenty ofblowback for his comments recently about the Bucks knocking off the Heat in the first round. On Sunday after the Bucks’ shootaround, at AmericanAirlines Arena, Jennings defended his comments.
“What else am I supposed to say? ‘Let’s play our best and hopefully we win a game,’” Jennings said. “Nah, you’re supposed to say you want to win. That’s the main thing.”
Earlier this week, Jennings predicted the Bucks would defeat the Heat in six games.
“At the end of the day, everybody is writing us off anyway so I don’t know why my comments are so crazy and like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe he said that,”’ Jennings said on Sunday morning. “Everybody is writing us off and saying we’re going to get swept, so I’m just defending our team.”
Haslem’s heartfelt talk with Sanders earlier this season didn’t fall on deaf ears, according to the Bucks power forward.
Haslem gave Sanders some advice on respecting referees after Sanders was ejected from games twice against the Heat this season. Sanders was ejected five times overall during the regular season, including three times in the span of 10 days in March.
“Udonis is a guy that I grew up watching, being a Florida guy and him being in Miami and playing here his whole career,” Sanders said. “It was good to hear that from him, him saying, ‘Yeah, I’ve been in this position. I’ve been here before.’
“You get riled up with controlling your emotions and stuff like that. And a couple veterans in the league kind of sit me down and talk to me sometimes because I think they see my passion and they see that I want to win, but it has to be under control. So, it’s good that they want to help in that sense.”
In all, Sanders was hit with 14 technical fouls this season (tied for second in the league), which resulted in him racking up more than $100,000 in fines from the NBA. How Sanders keeps his emotions in check could be an important aspect of the Heat-Bucks first-round playoff series.
A third-year player out of VCU, Sanders played for Port St. Lucie before joining coach Anthony Grant (now at Alabama). Grant, a Miami native, was an assistant at Florida when Haslem played for the Gators.