AmericanAirlines Arena hosted its first NBA basketball game in 151 days Tuesday night, and if the preseason game between the Heat and Nets provided anything meaningful it was that it served as a reminder of how much the sports landscape in Miami has changed in such a short span of time.
Inside the Heat’s locker room, Chris Bosh’s locker was completely empty, his name plate serving as the only reminder of how the franchise is no longer working toward his return. On the other side of that locker room, the corner slot which belonged to Dwyane Wade for 13 years had Beno Udrih’s name on it.
And on the court, before Miami blew out Brooklyn 121-100, there was a moment of silence to honor former Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and the two young men who died alongside him in a tragic boating accident Sept. 25.
Heat players wore white warmup t-shirts with Fernandez’s initials and No. 16 on it. Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, who sat next to the Heat’s bench for most of the game, also wore one of those warmup shirts.
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“It was a devastating blow to all of us in South Florida and our hearts go out to his family, everybody with the Marlins,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game of Fernandez, who back in early May when the Heat played its final home playoff game against the Raptors was in the midst of winning eight consecutive starts for the Marlins.
“It’s so tragic for a player so young,” Spoelstra continued. “So, really this night is to honor him, show respect to the families, but also the other two gentlemen [Eduardo Rivera and Emilio Macias] and their families.”
Heat players and coaches locked arms and some bowed their heads during the national anthem, the first time this preseason the team has followed the footsteps of other NBA teams in a public stand toward social injustice and police mistreatment of minorities. The Nets stood side-by-side with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
Heat captain Udonis Haslem had promised Monday the team would be respectful of the flag during the anthem. Spoelstra promised the Heat’s actions during the anthem would not be the end of the conversation moving forward.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions and that’s the one positive about all this,” he said. “It’s really piqued a lot of important dialogue within the team. All of us are sick about what we’ve seen. And it hits home with a few guys in particular in that locker room. But everybody in that locker room feels it. And really the discussion is about more than what we’ll do for the anthem. It’s more about action to really make a difference.”
On the court, center Hassan Whiteside, who signed a four-year, $98 million deal this summer to remain in Miami, continued to impress.
He scored 10 of the Heat’s first 13 points and had 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks by halftime. Whiteisde finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in 23 minutes with starting center Brook Lopez not suited up for the Nets.
“I think each month he’s been with us, he’s gotten better,” Spoelstra said. “I think that’s a great statement to make. For two straight years, he’s gotten better it seems like each week, each game that he plays understanding his role. He’s playing with a great motor right now.”
Point guard Goran Dragic, who was introduced last in the Heat’s pregame warmups (a spot reserved for Wade for so many years), had 17 points, 11 assists and just two turnovers in 29 minutes. There were many impressive scoring drives by Dragic to the basket and feeds between him and Whiteside.
“Me and Goran are getting better,” Whiteside said. “We’re getting on one page. We’re learning each day about each other. It’s great.”
Forward Justise Winslow struggled with foul trouble and fouled out with 6:30 to play, finishing with five points, seven rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes.
Miami led by 12 points in the first quarter with its starting unit on the court and then fell behind by 11 in the second quarter with most of the bench on the floor. The starting unit then opened the second half on an 8-0 run leading to the Heat’s runaway victory.
Derrick Williams, who made his first start in Spoelstra’s continuing rotation of power forwards this preseason, finished a team-leading plus 37. Luke Babbitt, who started the Heat’s preseason opener at power forward and is supposed to help stretch the floor with his three-point shooting, was minus-11.
Williams finished with 10 points, six rebounds in 25 minutes. Babbitt finished 2-of-5 from beyond the arc with eight points in 17 minutes.
James Johnson, who started at power forward in Saturday’s loss to the Timberwolves played only five minutes and finished with two points.
“That’s not an indictment on him or what I’m thinking right now or anybody on this staff,” Spoelstra said of Williams’ limited minutes. “[It was] just to give fair looks at guys. I wanted to give Derrick some quality minutes with the starters and then play into the rotation and play through some ups and downs.”
Wayne Ellington started at shooting guard over Tyler Johnson for the first time this preseason and had 14 points in 29 minutes against his former team. Ellington was four of eight from three-point range, helping the Heat finish 12 of 31 from beyond the arc.
Johnson, who once again served as point guard with Miami’s second unit, finished with 14 points (6-of-8 from the free throw line) with three assists and no turnovers in 21 minutes.
Veteran point guard Beno Udrih, who participated in his first full contact practice and played in the team’s “Red, White & Pink” scrimmage Monday night, did not play.
Udrih told the Miami Herald after the game he is scheduled to have an MRI on his back Wednesday. He says it’s only precautionary and probably would have played Tuesday night otherwise.