Miami Heat bench ready when duty calls

Erik Spoelstra has a problem other coaches in the NBA might envy: how to find playing time in the postseason for his deep supporting cast.

04/17/2013 12:01 AM

09/23/2013 6:52 PM

The backup point guard was one assist shy of a triple-double on Monday.

The third-string wing players have led the team to seven consecutive victories entering Wednesday’s regular-season finale against the Magic.

There’s a difficult truth about this Heat team that coach Erik Spoelstra will be forced to address in a few days. When the Heat’s coach shortens his rotation for the playoffs, some playoff-worthy players are going to be sitting on the end of the bench with nothing else to do but cheer on their teammates.

That, of course, is one way of perceiving the reality of a Heat playoff roster bursting with talent. Here’s another, presented by Rashard Lewis on Monday night after scoring 19 points against the Cavaliers.

“I don’t think we made it difficult for him,” Lewis said. “I think we made it easy for him. Because if someone gets in foul trouble, he can have confidence to go to the bench, and — God forbid any injuries — if someone gets injured, he should have confidence in going to his bench and trust that we can get the job done.”

And there you have the perfect example of what Spoelstra calls his “selfless” team. In those words spoken by Lewis, a player who was once considered among the game’s elite — and is just now regaining some of that old form — might be the Heat’s greatest strength — beyond, of course, the greatest quantifiable strength in the known universe, LeBron James.

“We’ve got the right veteran players who are willing to sacrifice and wait their turn and keep themselves ready and not drift mentally,” Spoelstra said. “We have guys who are playing for the right reasons — hopefully for the ultimate prize.”

Lewis, it seems, could sit the bench the entire playoffs, win a ring and be completely content with that role.

Then again, he will be more than ready if called upon — both in spirit and in body, thanks to the all the minutes he has logged in the final weeks of the season.

Lewis led the Heat in scoring against Cleveland. A few games earlier, it was Lewis’ spark off the bench in the second quarter that led to the Heat’s 41 points in 12 minutes against the Celtics.

“When [Spoelstra] calls on someone from the bench, it seems he always steps up and it shows how truly professional this team is and how deep our bench really is,” Lewis said.

He’s not a veteran like Lewis, but Norris Cole and his performance against the Cavaliers were just the latest examples of that professionalism and depth. The Heat’s backup point guard finished Monday’s game with 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Yes, his youth might have contributed to those two missed free throws, but his ability to mentally block out those misses and then block Kyrie Irving’s shot moments later was a display of maturity.

“Awesome job,” Lewis said. “Kyrie Irving is an All-Star and one of the best point guards in the league and he’s especially a great one-on-one player and he [isolated] Cole at the end of the game and he came up with a big steal. That’s the reason why we won that game, because Kyrie Irving would have gotten a great look at the rim.”

Another record

The Heat’s record of 15-1 on the second night of back-to-back games this season tied the NBA record in the category held also by the Dallas Mavericks of 2006-2007.

“This team has really bought into the notion of being a no-excuse team regardless of the circumstances,” Spoelstra said. “We try not to talk about officiating. We try not to talk about five games in seven nights — whatever it may be — we try not to talk about who’s in the uniform.

“The train goes on and let’s play how we’ve been building our habits and see what happens. And the guys have built from those experiences hopefully a mental toughness.”

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