As coach Erik Spoelstra experiments with different lineups, part of the Miami Heat’s preseason is about finding the best replacement options for the injured Dion Waiters and James Johnson.
In preparation for the possibility of beginning the regular season without the pair of projected starters, Spoelstra turned to Rodney McGruder to start in Waiters’ spot at shooting guard and Kelly Olynyk to start in Johnson’s position at power forward in Tuesday’s 122-113 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center.
Althought the Hornets outscored the Heat 64-50 in the second half, McGruder and Olynyk looked the part.
McGruder finished with 12 points, three rebounds and three assists. It’s been a strong start to the preseason for McGruder, who scored 15 points in Sunday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs after missing most of last season due to leg surgery.
Olynyk was also impressive with 18 points, four rebounds and two steals in his first minutes playing next to starting center Hassan Whiteside this preseason. Whiteside turned in another dominant performance, following up a productive outing in Sunday’s preseason opener with 14 points and 15 rebounds Tuesday.
This combination didn’t produce positive results last season, when the Heat was outscored by 12 points in the 186 minutes the pair of 7-footers played next to each other.
Spoelstra will likely continue to throw out different starting lineups in the Heat’s four remaining preseason games. But McGruder and Olynyk made a strong case to be part of Miami’s starting lineup if Waiters (left ankle surgery) and Johnson (sports hernia surgery) aren’t available for the Oct. 17 season opener against the Orlando Magic.
And the Heat could have another injury to deal with moving forward after wing player Derrick Jones Jr. suffered a bruised right shoulder after taking a hard fall on a tip-in attempt with 6:01 remaining in the second quarter Tuesday. Jones did not return, but there was a bit of good news as the Heat announced X-rays returned negative.