Forward Luol Deng is preaching patience these days.
Injuries to the Heat’s backcourt have affected Deng’s offensive consistency to begin the season, but on Sunday he delivered one of his best performances.
Deng finished with a team-high 26 points in the Heat’s victory against the Charlotte Hornets. He had eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first quarter after finishing with nine points in Saturday’s victory in Orlando.
Most of Deng’s best work as an offensive player happens away from the ball, so stability at the guard positions is important to his success.
His commitment off the ball has allowed the Heat to keep some of its core offensive principles intact while the lineup endures so many injuries. Deng and guard Mario Chalmers worked well together Sunday against the Hornets. Deng was 10 of 14 from the field, and Chalmers had 10 assists.
“It’s about not losing your patience and believing in what you’re trying to do,” Deng said. “It’s tough, and it’s going to be up and down and it’s going to take time, but it’s still early in the season.”
One of the Heat’s biggest tests comes Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors (10-2). Asked about preparing for the Warriors following the victory against the Hornets, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra quipped, “Don’t ruin my night.”
Starting Heat guards Norris Cole and Dwyane Wade were out again against the Hornets and are expected to miss Tuesday’s game against Golden State. Wade has missed six games with a hamstring injury, and Cole has missed two after dislocating his left middle finger against the Clippers last Thursday.
Chalmers started at point guard for the second consecutive game Sunday, and Shannon Brown filled in at shooting guard. That duo is expected to go head-to-head with guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of Golden State.
The Heat has won two in a row with Brown in the starting lineup, but, because of the injuries, chemistry has been almost nonexistent. For a team still coming together, Deng says, “chemistry is huge.”
“Especially for guys who don’t have the ball in their hand,” he said. “I think it’s a lot easier sometime if you’re a creator, and you can get yourself going, but if you’re a guy who moves and kind of depends other guys, and what they’re doing and stuff like that, it’s a lot harder because now you adjust to one guy and then now you got to read another guy and then you’ve got to adjust to how Mario plays, how Cole runs the team, get some minutes with [Shabazz] Napier a little bit. I haven’t played with Josh [McRoberts] much, but I’m sure a lot of teams are dealing with the same thing.”
All that turnover in the backcourt has affected the Heat since the first week of the season, but the team is doing better than some of its competition in the Eastern Conference, including the Cleveland Cavaliers. With nearly a full complement of healthy players, the Cavs and LeBron James had lost four in a row before facing the Orlando Magic on Monday.
A season void of any semblance of pressure has helped in Miami, too. Backbiting and second-guessing already appears to be chipping away at team chemistry in Cleveland with the Cavaliers under constant scrutiny.
Meanwhile, the Heat is cruising along mostly unnoticed by the national media despite getting off to its worst start since James’ first season in Miami.
“I think the main thing is fully believing in what the team is doing,” Deng said. “Just really believing in how good you could be if you go and get it, and I think we showed it a little in Dallas, and showed it a little in early games and then it goes away.
“It’s so hard because now we got games and games and back-to-backs. [Monday] we’ll be off and then we play on Tuesday, so what day do you get … and now D-Wade is rehabbing to get back, and then when he gets back and we have shift a little bit.”
It’s a lot to deal with, but those are infinitely more manageable problems when expectations are low, and the reality of the Eastern Conference is that teams do not truly need to be playing well until after the All-Star break.
“By 30-40 games, you expect to be a lot better team than you are now,” Deng said. “I think the chemistry will be there, and I think chemistry, if you look around the league, teams that are playing well are teams that have stuck together for a while. So, chemistry in the NBA is important, especially when you have so many other talents on the court.”
▪ The Heat signed 7-foot D-League center Hassan Whiteside and waived guard Shannon Brown.
Tuesday: Warriors at Heat
When/where: 7:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: ESPN; FM 104.3, 790 AM, WAQI 710 AM (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 27-24.
Of note: The Heat has won three of its past four games despite constant turnover in the starting lineup and rotation due to injuries. On Sunday, another player was lost to injury when Chris Andersen went down with a sprained ankle. Andersen has been ruled out for Tuesday’s game against the Warriors and Norris Cole (finger) and Dwyane Wade (hamstring) are both listed as doubtful. The Warriors have won five games in a row and guards Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are both averaging over 22 points per game. Forward David Lee (hamstring) is out and Andrew Bogut (right orbital contusion) and Leandro Barbosa (right knee sprain) are questionable. Golden State is 2-0 against Eastern Conference opponents this season.