The two-pronged problem facing the Heat with 27 games remaining in the season: one, somehow replace Chris Bosh, and, two, integrate an All-NBA level player into the lineup.
Although the Heat has tried to downplay the significance of these adjustments, trying to win games and remain in the playoff hunt while essentially starting from scratch is going to be difficult. And that scenario doesn’t even take into account the emotionally draining factor the past few days has had on the team.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s working blueprint: “We want our attackers being aggressive and attacking, we want our facilitators facilitating, and we want it all blended together at the same time.”
New point guard Goran Dragic freelanced through his first game with the Heat, but things started to come into focus against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Dragic is the team’s new quarterback, to borrow from another sport and, following along with that analogy, the Heat’s challenge is this: Add a passing quarterback during the middle of a playoff race when before the team ran the run-heavy Wing-T.
“We need time, of course, everyone needs to get to know each other,” Dragic said. “The last seven years I played the game up-tempo. I like to push the ball and, of course, it’s going to be a challenge for all the players because when I get the ball I’m going to push it, and everyone else is going to need to follow it.”
Adding to the challenge, Dwyane Wade said playing with someone like Dragic is completely new even for a 12-year pro like Wade. He has never played with point guard quite like Dragic.
“It’s going to be a little different, but you learn to play with good players if you want to, so it won’t be a problem with me and him,” Wade said. “We’re going to communicate a lot.”
Spoelstra noted that Wade’s experience and elite talent would help the process rather than slow it down.
“Dwyane is the ultimate chameleon,” Spoelstra said. “He can give you whatever you need. That’s what Hall of Famers do. His versatility has grown and changed immensely over the course of his career. Really, wherever you need him to be, he can be now — in the post, off the ball, with the ball, at the elbow, in transition, whatever you need.”
Putting to rest any idea that Dragic would be playing off the ball, Spoelstra reiterated that “the ball will be in his hands quite a bit,” and, “he has to make plays for our basketball team.”
Bosh remained hospitalized on Monday after his medical scare last week. The power forward was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in his lungs, last week and will miss the remainder of the season. Spoelstra said Bosh would be released from the hospital “soon.”
It should be noted that Spoelstra has been a rock of positivity throughout his team’s trying season. Depending on perspective, Spoelstra is on his fourth or fifth rebuild of the Heat’s lineup this season, and each time the coach and team have been handed a setback or injury, they have adapted and improved.
Spoelstra, of course, is facing his toughest rebuild yet.
“We’re coming off an emotional 48 hours, and we had to address that, but [Sunday] was just about moving forward and trying to find some solutions for this team and make the new guys feel comfortable, but also the guys that are already here, getting them all on the same page,” Spoelstra said.
There have been new wrinkles, necessary changes, rebuilds and all-out reinventions of the Heat’s system, but the team’s attitude hasn’t faltered yet.
“We’re still in a position where we still have a playoff spot, and that says a lot about our team and says a lot about our character,” co-captain Udonis Haslem said. “Obviously, things haven’t gone the way we would like them to go, but we continue to work the process, and I’m proud of the way we responded as a group. Wish we could be a lot better off health-wise, but it hasn’t worked out like that.”