Miami Heat

Luol Deng says fitting-in process with Heat is ‘getting there’

Luol Deng of the Miami Heat handles the ball against the Houston Rockets at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Nov. 2, 2014.
Luol Deng of the Miami Heat handles the ball against the Houston Rockets at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Nov. 2, 2014. NBAE/Getty Images

Dwyane Wade’s knees and Chris Bosh’s new role as the go-to-guy haven’t been an issue for the Heat five games into the post-LeBron James era.

It’s been injuries to others. Chris Andersen’s bruised ribs, Danny Granger’s strained left hamstring, Josh McRoberts’ surgically repaired toe — and the consequent lack of consistent playing time together with Bosh and Wade — have helped slow things down for the new-look Heat after a hot start.

Although the recovery process for those three remains a work in progress, the Heat (3-2) will try to get things back on track Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. when it hosts the Minnesota Timberwolves at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Consider it another opportunity for the guys that are healthy — like James’ replacement Luol Deng — to continue the melding process with Bosh and Wade.

Called one of the most important free agent signings in Heat history by team president Pat Riley back in July (days after James returned home to Cleveland), Deng said Friday his fitting-in process with the Heat is “getting there.”

“It’s been up and down,” said Deng, who after shooting 58 percent and averaging 15 points, four rebounds, two assists and 32 minutes in Miami’s first three games — all wins — has struggled in the Heat’s back-to-back losses (33 percent field goal percentage, 20 combined points, four rebounds and no assists in 25 minutes a game).

“We have to try to find a consistency, try to get back to what we did well the first three games,” Deng continued. “And then we’ve got to really try to find out who we are, and kind of stick with it.”

That in a nutshell has been the Heat’s biggest issue. It’s been hard to develop a clear picture of who they are when so many new parts have yet to be fit into place.

Although he’s played in four games, McRoberts, a projected starter, is averaging just eight minutes off the bench as he works his way back into playing shape.

Granger, expected to provide scoring off the bench, has yet to play although he said Friday he hasn’t felt discomfort in his hamstring each of the last two days following full-contact practices, a good sign coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Andersen, meanwhile, participated in conditioning drills Friday, but was withheld from contact.

“I know what kind of team we have — as far as how potent we can be,” Bosh said. “I always have the big picture in mind. But I think we have a lot to accomplish, and it’s going to take some time.”

Deng is arguably the biggest part of that new picture for Miami. His size and length as a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward are vital for the Heat on defense. But so is getting him to be a consistent third scoring option.

As a stellar cutter to the basket who can score in the paint as well as hit the three-point shot, Deng is a player who ultimately can take some of the scoring load off Wade and Bosh. So far, both All-Stars have carried their weight. But they are bound to tail off for a game or two sooner or later.

“We do want him to be that third guy, but we also have to understand we’ve all got to help him be that third guy,” Wade said of Deng. “I think there’s been moments where he’s probably felt comfortable and moments where he hasn’t. It’s going to take awhile for us to continue to get used to Lu and Lu to get used to us.”

Although the Heat was badly exposed by Hornets center Al Jefferson in the paint with Andersen (Miami’s best post defender and rebounder) absent Wednesday in Charlotte, there were things offensively Spoelstra said could have been better.

Bosh said Friday “the ball stuck a little bit too much” against the Hornets, and Spoelstra echoed those sentiments, saying the Heat has to do a better job getting in a flow offensively with quick decisions and ball movement.

Miami averaged 17.5 assists in its two losses while averaging 25 assists over its first three wins.

“We’ve been getting away from that the last two games,” Spoelstra said of creating offense for teammates. “Our assist numbers are down, but also how we wanted to play offensively was a little bit more stagnant than it was in the first three games.”

Getting Deng to become a more consistent scorer could help with that. Bosh said Deng needs to be “in the mid-to-high teens as far as his [scoring] average is concerned.

“After awhile, after we build a rhythm guys are going to know where their shots are going to come from and that’s going to help us out a lot,” Bosh said. “We just need to keep [Deng] in mind to really get him in a rhythm every game, get him going. That’s an extra option we can really utilize because Lu can be dangerous down the stretch of games.”

Saturday: T’wolves at Heat

▪ When/where: 7:30 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.

▪ TV/radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM and WAQI 710 AM (Spanish).

▪ Series: Heat leads 28-20.

▪ Noteworthy: The Heat split last season’s series — winning 103-82 in Minnesota and losing 122-121 in double overtime in April in Miami. The T’Wolves are playing on the second night of a back-to-back after playing in Orlando on Friday. Udonis Haslem (quad), Chris Andersen (ribs) and Danny Granger (hamstring) are listed as questionable for the Heat. T’Wolves center Ronny Turiaf (hip) was doubtful for Friday’s game in Orlando.

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