The Miami Heat, which went 1-1 over the weekend with a win at the San Antonio Spurs Friday and a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday in Louisville, will wrap up its preseason schedule this week with three games in four nights beginning Tuesday at home against the Orlando Magic.
And while there's still no clarity as to who will start at shooting guard or power forward when the season opens Oct. 26 at Orlando, or who will earn the 15th and final roster spot (between Beno Udrih and Briante Weber), we should have some answers by the end of the week.
For now, here is some news, notes and observations as the Heat get back to practice Monday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena:
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▪ Luke Babbitt (groin) did not play Friday or Saturday and it isn’t clear how bad the injury really is. If it is troublesome, it could play a role in who starts at both power forward and shooting guard. It’s clear coach Erik Spoelstra likes having a three-point shooter on the floor at all times to help space the floor.
▪ Derrick Williams has now started three consecutive games at power forward and he has played well in two of them, going a team-best plus-37 in last week’s win over the Brooklyn Nets and then plus-9 in the 108-100 win at San Antonio.
Though he hasn’t been been a great three-point shooter throughout his career and was 3-for-13 combined beyond the arc in last week's three preseason games, Williams has gone 7-for-11 within from two-point range and averaged four rebounds and 8.6 points per game in his starts.
Spoelstra has said throughout camp that Williams, a poor defender his first five seasons in the league, has been very committed to improving on the defensive side of the ball.
“That's all we ask – be committed,” Spoelstra said Thursday before the Heat left for San Antonio. “That means consistently doing it everyday. That's what you're seeing right there.”
▪ James Johnson, who has started only once at power forward in five games, provided 18 solid minutes off the bench in Friday;s win over the Spurs, finishing with 15 points. He was 6-of-10 shooting including 2-of-2 from three-point range. He also had three rebounds and three assists and was plus-9 for the night.
Johnson was only 3-of-10 shooting Saturday night, but finished with 12 points in 27 minutes off the bench. He also had three rebounds, four assists and two steals and finished plus-6 on the night. It’s looking more and more like Johnson, who is the best defensive option at power forward, is destined to be coming off the bench when the regular season starts.
▪ Dion Waiters has started at shooting guard each of the last two games. He scored 13 points in 24 minutes and was 2-of-4 from three-point range with four assists and one turnover in 24 minutes versus the T’Wolves Saturday and had 15 points (5-of-9 shooting), had four assists and one turnover in 27 minutes versus the Spurs.
Still, Waiters has been very effective running the Heat's second unit this preseason. It will be interesting to see if Spoelstra keeps him in the starting lineup moving forward. There’s a chance once Josh Richardson returns from his sprained MCL he’ll be the Heat’s starting two-guard.
▪ Wayne Ellington was 1-of-9 from beyond the arc and 2-for-12 shooting overall for five points in 26 minutes Friday, but rebounded nicely in Saturday's 101-96 loss to the Timberwolves with 14 points on 4-of-9 from three-point range.
“That’s part of being a shooter, you know, when you get to this level, you’ve got to be able to forget fast,” Ellington said after Saturday night's loss to the T'Wolves. “Right after the game, you know obviously you look at it, you look at your film, you look at your shots and see what you’ve could’ve done better, but then you forget about it. You’ve got to focus on the next one. It comes so fast that you can’t really dwell on the past.”
As long as he's having more nights like he had Saturday than Friday, Ellington can probably expect to remain in the Heat's rotation.
The Heat has already had three games in which it's attempted 30 or more three-pointers. That didn't happen once in the regular season last year.
It’s become clear Spoelstra is he's committed to having his shooters put up threes to keep defenses from clamping down in the paint. He’s said Babbitt, Ellington, Richardson and Tyler Johnson all have the green light to put up threes.
“The mentality of our shooters, they can’t think at all about it, they just have to have an absolute green light for it,” Spoelstra said Saturday.
The Heat, which shot 33.6 percent from three-point range last season (27th out 30 NBA teams) and averaged the third-fewest attempts in the league per game (18.0), is averaging 27.6 three-point attempts (ninth-most) and shooting 39.9 percent (seventh-best) from beyond the arc this preseason.
Ellington has made the most threes (11 of 29, 37.9%). The Heat actually has six players shooting 40 percent or better from three-point range this preseason: Tyler Johnson (4-of-5, 80%), Babbitt (8-of-17, 47.1%), Waiters (6-of-13, 46.2%), Rodney McGruder (5-of-12, 41.7%), Justise Winslow (5-of-12, 41.7%) and Goran Dragic (4-of-10, 40%).
PLAYING THE RESULTS
You can always look at Friday's 108-100 win at San Antonio and say “it's only the preseason” but except for Lamarcus Aldridge (he was at his University of Texas Hall of Fame induction) the Spurs had their regular rotation on the floor for most of the game and still trailed the Heat 88-68 after three quarters.
Dragic, Waiters, Hassan Whiteside, Winslow and Williams started and outperformed the Spurs starters of Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green and Tony Parker in plus/minus by double-digits.
Waiters and Winslow were a team-leading plus 15 on the court against San Antonio while Whiteside, Dragic and Tyler Johnson, who played nearly 21 minutes off the bench and scored a team-leading 17 points, were each plus-14. Johnson was 4-for-4 from three-point range in Friday’s win.
▪ The Heat lost to the T’Wolves for the second time this preseason on a neutral court Saturday, but Dragic, Whiteside, Tyler Johnson and Udonis Haslem sat out Saturday's game in Louisville to rest while Babbitt (groin), Josh McRoberts (foot) and Stefan Jankovic (ankle) did not play because they were still dealing with injuries.
The only established starter who saw action in Saturday's loss was Winslow and he played only 7 minutes and 12 seconds. Winslow finished with five points and an assist. So, it was essentially an off night for him, too.
Miami led 58-51 at the half before Minnesota went with its starting lineup of Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio for more than 10 minutes to start the third quarter, flipping a seven-point deficit into a 83-76 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Rodney McGruder, Waiters, Weber, Willie Reed and Williams played most of the third quarter for the Heat.
▪ McGruder played 39 minutes off the bench was impressive in the second quarter, scoring 12 points while making all four of his three-point attempts. Still, McGruder finished 5-of-15 shooting for the game. Not exactly impressive.
FINAL ROSTER SPOT
Udrih played for the first time this preseason Saturday, but was only on the court 18 minutes and was a non-factor (1-of-2 from the field with two assists, one turnover and two points).
Weber scored eight points (3 of 8 from the field) and had two rebounds, six assists, four steals and five turnovers in 30-plus minutes Saturday versus the T'Wolves. While he's produced 13 steals in 82 minutes this preseason, he's still been a bit reckless with the basketball. Weber has 13 assists and 10 turnovers and he's minus-24 overall.
FREE THROW WOES
The Heat is shooting a league-worst 63.7 percent from the free throw line this preseason.
But most of that falls on Reed, who is only 4-of-16 from the stripe. Take Reed out of the equation and the Heat are shooting 70 percent, which still isn't great, but isn’t entirely embarrassing either.
Whiteside is 10-of-19 from the free throw line (52.6 percent) this preseason, below his career average of 59.8 percent and well below 75 percent he shot last year after the All-Star break.
▪ Miami is giving up 101 points per game this preseason (11th fewest in the league) and opponents are shooting 41.9 percent from the field (seventh-best field goal defense). The Heat's three-point defense (38.5 percent) ranks fifth-worst.