He may not be quite as popular in the Philippines as Manny Pacquiao, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose mother Elisa is Filipino, is still a pretty big magnet for eyeballs overseas.
Earlier this week, the Heat’s TV crew produced a video on Spoelstra’s favorite Filipino restaurant, Lutong Pinoy in North Miami, and in a couple of days it has already drawn more than 1.1 million views on Facebook. That’s by far the franchise’s most popular video ever according to Heat courtside reporter Jason Jackson.
“That’s crazy,” said Spoelstra, who made a pair of trips to the Philippines with assistant coaches and others in the NBA to coach clinics and speak to youth in 2009 and 2014. “I mean that’s very humbling.
“When we went back during the height of the championship run it was exciting to share that success together, a whole country rooting for a team. But what’s been really cool is that even though our team has changed, the support and the enthusiasm for the Miami Heat has remained. And that’s been awesome to see.”
Spoelstra, 46, has been very involved in the NBA’s Filipino Heritage Week events this week.
Tuesday, he and point guard Goran Dragic did video conference calls with reporters in the Philippines. Then, after his post game press conference following Wednesday’s win over the Pelicans, Spoelstra participated in a Facebook Live event where he fielded more questions from the Philippines.
Friday’s Heat game against the Timberwolves, like Wednesday’s against New Orleans, is being broadcast to the Philippines as part of the NBA’s Filipino Heritage week. Saturday’s Warriors-Bucks game will also be televised there.
Jackson said the Heat has a fan base of 5.75 million followers on social media from the Philippines, roughly 300,000 more than it does in America.
Spoelstra said he would like to go back to the Philippines sometime soon and is working on a return with the league.
“Last summer was one summer we were looking at, but my wedding got in the way,” he said. “It’s definitely something we’d like to do. I still have a lot of my family over there. But, it was the highlight of the summer every summer we’d go.”
Spoelstra said the fact the NBA even celebrates Filipino Heritage Week “is almost mind boggling” to him. He’s more than happy though to be heavily involved in it.
“I remember being in junior high and Filipino people would say ‘What the heck is [Filipino Heritage week]?” Spoelstra said. “I can tell you as soon as we touched down [in the Phillipines during our first trip back in 2009] it was amazing just the enthusiasm people had for the NBA, anything that had to be related to basketball. Their passion for the game, you could just see it.”
THE ISOLATION STOPPER
Heat forward James Johnson is enjoying a career season offensively as both a scorer and distributor, but he’s still very much holding his own on the defensive end.
Center Hassan Whiteside, who led the league in blocks and finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year vote last season, said after practice Thursday Johnson was the No. 1 player in the league when it comes to isolation defense. And it turns out he was right.
According to the Heat, Johnson has had 42 isolation defensive plays this season and allowed opponents to score points on only 15.6 percent of those opportunities (five field goals on 32 shot attempts). Out of the 150 players in the league to defend at least 40 isolation plays, a team spokesman said, Johnson ranks first in the league in fewest points allowed (18).
“I need to hire Hassan on the side. He comes up with really obscure statistics and analytics,” Spoelstra joked Friday morning. “But JJ, those are one of the qualities we really liked about him. He takes a challenge. He has pride and he has versatility and athleticism to be able to guard multiple positions. You don’t face teams that necessarily play as much postup or one-on-one anymore. But JJ is good in those areas.”
▪ After shooting a dreadful 56.8 percent from the free throw line prior to the All-Star break, Whiteside is shooting 80.9 percent in his 11 games since. Last season he shot 75 percent after the All-Star break and 55.2 percent prior to it.
▪ Spoelstra reiterated Friday the team’s improved three-point shooting (Miami is shooting a league-best 40.6 percent over its 22-5 run) has everything to do with better overall health and better ball movement.
“It's not one factor,” Spoelstra said. “What’s most probably interesting about all of this is that we don’t emphasize the three-point shot. We emphasize spacing and ball movement.”
The Heat has won 18 consecutive games in which it has made at least double-digit threes. Spoelstra said last week his players aren’t putting up more three-point shots in practice than they have in the past.
“If anything it might just be more efficient,” he said. “We’ve had it before and maybe done too much.”