Even though he has had a month’s worth of practices and eight preseason games to get to know his new roster, coach Erik Spoelstra still wasn’t ready Tuesday to share what the Heat’s starting lineup will look like for Wednesday night’s season opener in Orlando.
Nor was he ready to discuss how the team’s rotations might play out. Part of it could be gamesmanship. But perhaps the most honest answer is that he really isn’t sure.
“There’s not a lot known with this group,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t have all the answers right now, and that’s OK. We’re going to be a team that hopefully evolves and gets better each month. How we look tomorrow night we’ll hopefully look different in January and February and March. We will have a starting lineup tomorrow and we'll see how that goes. The rotation, guys are earning spots but nothing’s set in stone right now.”
The starting lineup, Spoelstra said, “is fluid.”
“Is it going to change every game? Obviously I don’t expect that and I don’t want that,” he said. “But I’m open to what will happen with this team.”
With Chris Bosh inactive and likely out for the season, and Wayne Ellington (right quad), Josh Richardson (knee) and Josh McRoberts (foot) on the mend from injuries, the Heat will only have 11 healthy players available Wednesday. All Spoelstra could guarantee Tuesday was that the Heat will “definitely play [at least] nine.”
Center Hassan Whiteside and forward Justise Winslow will most likely see the most minutes because they are “the most physically capable,” Spoelstra said.
For Whiteside, who averaged 29.1 minutes a game last season, it will require staying out of foul trouble. But if he can do that, Spoelstra said he could see the Heat’s $98 million center playing between 34 and 36 minutes a game this season.
It also will require Whiteside making sure he doesn’t take plays off on the defensive end.
“I don’t want him to pace and I don’t want his pursuits to be optional,” Spoelstra said. “If that means he can only play 28 minutes a game, well so be it. I want him to be dominant defensively, impacting everything at the rim, rebounding, making multiple efforts. The things not very many guys are capable of, I want him having that impact, and then we’ll figure out how many minutes he can play at that impact. But I don’t want him pacing.”
Based on his preseason numbers (14.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 22 minutes), if Whiteside were to average 36 minutes a game this season for the Heat his season averages of 24.2 points, 16.9 rebounds, 3.8 blocks would put him in the MVP conversation.
“That would be awesome if I can play 34, 36 minutes,” Whiteside said. “I've never played over 30 minutes on the Heat. So, it would be great. I'm going to go out there and compete as hard as I can take role on and take that challenge on.”
Whiteside said staying out of foul trouble won’t “be a big deal.” He fouled out twice last season and was ejected once for a flagrant foul on Boban Marjonivic in a loss to the Spurs right before the All-Star break.
As for point guard Goran Dragic, Spoelstra said he wants to keep his minutes in the low 30s to make sure his legs stay fresh. Dragic averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists and 33.6 minutes last season after the All-Star break when the Heat adopted its current up-tempo, fast-paced style on offense.
“He goes really hard,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t want the season to wear him out. I want him to keep that intensity and the pace at which he plays and keep him fresh while he’s doing it.”
Dragic, 30, said he’s in better shape at the start of this season than he was last year and could play upwards of 35 minutes like he did in 2013-14 when he was an All-NBA third team selection with Phoenix.
“I want to play a lot,” Dragic said. “I mean I can run all day. He knows that. Of course it's a coaching decision. But we'll see how the game is going to go. In the end, I like to play a lot of minutes. I like to run.
“Back in the day I always played fast and I played a lot of minutes. So it doesn't affect me.”