Miami Heat

Can this hardly used bench player provide ‘a spark’ for the slumping Miami Heat?

Miami Heat forward Derrick Williams hits a three points basket against the Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka in the second quarter of an preseason NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Miami.
Miami Heat forward Derrick Williams hits a three points basket against the Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka in the second quarter of an preseason NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Miami.

Derrick Williams started five preseason games at power forward for the Miami Heat and then much to his surprise did not play in six of the team’s first seven regular season games before coach Erik Spoelstra turned to him Saturday night for two things he’s known for: energy and effort.

“That’s what I try and bring — a spark, an energy, a different type of energy that we don’t have right now,” the 6-8, 240-pound forward said after he replaced Luke Babbitt in the Heat’s rotation Saturday and finished with 11 points, four rebounds, an assist and a block in 20 minutes off the bench.

“I haven’t really played in a couple weeks,” Williams continued. “I was just trying to get my wind back. I was a little gassed towards the end, especially that third quarter when I got the start in the second half. I was just trying to get my rhythm back. I’m glad I made a couple shots and all that is past me now. I just want to get consistent minutes and help my team.”

Spoelstra, who jostled through 23 different starting lineups last season in large part because of injuries, could shake up the Heat’s lineup and rotations for other reasons if what happened during the third quarter of Saturday night’s 102-91 loss to the Utah Jazz continues.

As the Heat (2-6) missed its first 10 shots of the second half and Utah’s lead swelled from five points to as many as 21 early in the fourth quarter, Spoelstra was admittedly bothered by his team’s body language and effort, describing it as out of character.

So, he quickly turned to his bench for answers, yanking center Hassan Whiteside and shooting guard Dion Waiters at the 7:14 mark of the third quarter, earlier than usual.

Whiteside returned and scored nine of his 15 points after that. But Waiters did not play at all after he was pulled and finished with four points in a little less than 19 minutes of total work. Babbitt, meanwhile, started for the eighth game in a row at power forward, but played only the first five minutes and 15 seconds of the game after missing all three of his three-point shots.

The Heat’s bench, led by James Johnson’s 15 points in 30 minutes, ended up outscoring the starters 49-42, marking the second time that’s happened in the last three games. Spoelstra said he liked the way his second unit moved the ball and “held the fort.”

Josh McRoberts, meanwhile, played for the first time this season, replacing Whiteside at center ahead of Willie Reed. McRoberts finished with four points and an assist in 13 minutes. Spoelstra said afterward Miami might have to use three centers this season to find what it wants and needs to survive.

“This is a collective thing,” Spoelstra said when asked if he was specifically disappointed with Whiteside’s effort. “We have to be a whole lot better and be consistent with our play and attention to details. Hassan is such a vital piece to what we’re trying to do and he just has to continue to develop.

“We all have to get better. So, it’s not any one dude.”

The Heat, which is off to its worst start at home since it began the 2007 season 0-5 at AmericanAirlines Arena, has little time to sulk. Miami (2-6) plays its first back-to-back of the season with a game at San Antonio on Monday night before hosting the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.

Williams, meanwhile, said he’s ready for more work.

He said part of the reason Spoelstra told him he wasn’t playing was because he wanted him to be able to grasp details better at both forward positions. Williams said it wasn’t his defensive responsibilities, but rather his offense, which is surprising considering he’s been known to be such a poor defender his first five seasons in the league.

“Just never second guessing,” Williams said of what Spoelstra wants from him on offense. “Now that I think I’ve got that down, got this out of the way, I just want to keep playing, just keep playing hard. I think when you do that it spreads energy throughout the whole lineup.”

Williams said “it was a little tough” trying to maintain a positive energy while playing only three minutes and 20 seconds in Miami’s first seven games. But he’s ready for more now.

“I think it really helped motivate me a little bit more just to get after it,” Williams said of riding the pine. “I think just to prove not only to my teammates, but to the coaching staff that I want to be here and I’m really tired of jumping around team to team and I really want this spot to be my home. I just want to get out there and help these guys win. And I think that’s why they really brought me here — not just athleticism, energy, things like that, but just being a great teammate and never folding and always being there to help my teammates out.”

Monday: Heat at Spurs

When/where: 8:30 p.m.; AT&T Center, San Antonio.

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).

Series: Spurs lead 40-18

Scouting report: Heat point guard Goran Dragic (sprained left ankle) has been ruled out and will miss his second consecutive game. The Heat is 3-25 all-time in San Antonio and lost to the Spurs 106-99 on Oct. 30 in Miami. The Spurs lead the league in free-throw percentage (85.6 percent), rank second in three-point percentage (38.6 percent) and allow the third-fewest points in the league (96.7 per game).