It’s hard to decipher what exactly really is praise and pity these days when other people around the league talk about the Miami Heat.
But at least on a few occassions now during this six-game road trip out West, the guys beating up on the Heat (11-29) have had good things to say about both the effort being put forth by the players and the job being done by coach Erik Spoelstra, who is trying to squeeze the most out of his injury-riddled and perhaps talent-starved roster.
“I give them a lot of credit. They play hard every possession,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the Heat battled his team hard for four quarters Tuesday night before former league MVPs Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant led Golden State (33-6) down the stretch to a 107-95 victory.
“Erik is doing an amazing job with that group considering the loss of [Dwyane] Wade and the injuries,” Kerr continued. “We knew that coming in just watching tape. They compete, get after it, defend and they play together.
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“Hassan Whiteside is a handful. Whether he’s scoring inside or not, he’s a threat in there and you have to honor that. They are a good team and better than their record shows. I know you are going to say that’s coach speak or whatever, but they are a competitive team and a team that plays hard and they are going to make you work. They don’t have enough firepower right now to win consistently, but they made us work for everything.”
“They just play hard. Every possession, they were coming at you,” Curry said after he posted 24 points, nine assists and eight rebounds against the Heat.
“Obviously, Hassan [Whiteside] played amazing, putting pressure on our defense in the paint. Every one of their players, when they’re out there, they always seem very aggressive with the ball. Whether they made or missed shots, you couldn’t relax. The same thing on the defensive end. They tried to pressure you, play physical and they never really quit. Their record isn’t great, but coach talked about it before the game, this is a team that no matter what the score is, they play hard for 48 minutes.”
The Heat, which own the second-worst record in the league behind only the Brooklyn Nets (8-29), fielded its 17th different starting lineup of the season Tuesday, now the most combinations used by any team in the league this season and one more than the New Orleans Pelicans.
Last season, the Heat went through 23 starting lineups during the length of the regular season. Friday’s game in Milwaukee is the halfway point of the season.
Injuries have obviously played a huge role in the lineup upheaval. The Heat lead the league in most games lost to injury.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whose team led the Heat by 24 points midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, expressed sympathy for Spoelstra, the second-longest tenured coach in the league behind the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. And Rivers is Spoelstra’s old arch-nemisis from the days when the Heat and Celtics used to have classic battles in the playoffs.
“They're going through growth right now, and so they’re dangerous because they come out and play hard,” Rivers said before Chris Paul and JJ Redick carved the Heat up Sunday. “Erik has those guys playing hard. They execute, they play together. And that's hard to do when you're in a developmental stage. It really is.
“Usually those are teams that everybody wants to show how good they are. They don’t care about the team. And Erik has done an amazing job of getting them to buy into team basketball, which is really hard to do.”
Friday: Heat at Bucks
Heat (11-29) at Bucks (19-18)
When/where: 8 p.m., BMO Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisc.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Heat lead 62-40
Scouting report: Miami enjoyed it's biggest win of the season -- a 96-73 rout of Milwaukee -- back on Nov. 17, but faces a Bucks team coming off a win in San Antonio and with wins in four of its last six games. Giannis Antetokounmpo has elevated his game to a superstar level this season. He's the fifth-most efficient player in the league, averaging 23.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists and two blocks a game.