For the first time this preseason, Erik Spoelstra put on display what many think his starting lineup will look like once the games start counting for real.
When the lineup card was handed out Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, listed were Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside.
In total, Spoelstra’s hopeful starting lineup played together 14 minutes and 25 seconds. Deng, Wade, Bosh, Dragic and Whiteside combined to go 22 for 43 from the field (51 percent), scoring 52 points in Miami’s 105-100 win Saturday against the Rockets.
“Everybody was coming at it with the right purity and mind frame,” Spoelstra said about the flow of the game improving. “But you can’t substitute time together. So there’s times it looked great, there was times we weren’t on the same sheet of music. But these things with time we’ll be able to work out.”
Outside of an open scrimmage and practices, this was the first time Whiteside has seen an NBA court this preseason, being held out by Spoelstra in the first four games. Whiteside averaged 11.8 points in 48 games last season for the Heat.
Whiteside went 6 for 9 for 12 points with nine rebounds in 26 minutes in his preseason debut and looked more comfortable as the night wore on.
“It felt good just getting out there with my teammates,” he said. “Just playing with those guys and trying to build that chemistry.”
Wade finished the night with six points, Bosh nine, Deng 15 and Dragic 10.
Whiteside started in place of Udonis Haslem. Besides the last game against the Magic, Haslem had rounded out the starting lineup along with Wade, Dragic, Bosh and Deng in the first three games of the preseason.
With Whiteside in the starting rotation for the first time this preseason, the starting crew got tested.
The crew’s first test lasted 6 minutes and 56 seconds in the opening quarter against the Rockets. There were times when they looked in sync and other times when plays reminded everyone this is still preseason.
In the first 2:19, the Heat turned the ball over four times, two times each by Wade and Bosh, but Miami eventually got things going and tied the score 14-14 with 5:34 left in the first quarter.
“It’s good to get some game reps with our whole starting five,” Bosh said. “Still a work in progress, we were kind of all over the place a little bit. We’re still going to have to work on some things. We’re still trying to figure out what our roles are going to be and how we’re going to effect the game individually and as a team.
“[Saturday] was a step forward. We just have to look at the film and go from there.”
Offensively the starters got their rhythm going, but defensively there were lapses. Rockets forward Trevor Ariza proved to be a nightmare, going 3 of 3 from the floor, hitting both of his threes on the way to eight points in that opening stretch.
Spoelstra used different lineup combinations for the rest of the first half, but put the starters back together for the final 3:11, during which the Rockets closed the half on a 9-6 run. But Miami’s starters looked more in sync, with only one turnover during that stretch.
At the half, each starter had recorded more than 13 minutes while going a combined 14 for 25, a respectable 56 percent, and contributing 34 of Miami’s 56 first-half points.
“It’s going to take a lot of getting used to, but it’s good to have weapons,” Wade said. “This is a tough game to play with that because you’ve guys that get up and down, run and challenge the defense in so many different ways. So we’ve got a lot to learn playing with each other, but it’s a good step in the right direction.”
When the second half started, Spoelstra ran his original starting five back on the court, to continue giving the group a chance to mesh. Spoelstra left the starting group in for the opening 4:20, keeping pace with the Rockets, giving up a 10-8 run out of the locker room.
That stretch would be the final run for the starters to be on the floor as a whole, giving Heat fans and Spoelstra a glimpse of what this season might look like at least at the beginning.
“Well, we will see how we feel [on Sunday], that’s the biggest question,” Spoelstra said. “Let’s see if we can do it again or wait for the middle of the week.”