Erik Spoelstra felt bad he couldn’t get James Ennis into the Heat’s preseason opener Sunday.
“I wanted to play him — it’s just tough,” Spoelstra said Tuesday before the Heat wrapped up practice and headed to Louisville where they’ll take on the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
“I just wanted to give the first nine, 10 guys a full chance to get out there together. We’ve tried to get those guys as many reps and minutes together as possible. I’ve mixed and matched more in [previous preseason] training camps. This one I haven’t because I want to build that continuity right away.”
Building continuity and chemistry is about as big a focus as any for the Heat this preseason. There are so many players that haven’t played any meaningful minutes together Spoelstra doesn’t have much of a choice.
According to the NBA’s stats page, the Heat’s lineup that spent the most time on the court together last season featured Luol Deng, Goran Dragic, Udonis Haslem, Dwayne Wade and Hassan Whiteside. They played a grand total of 179 minutes together, spread out over 16 regular-season games. That ranked 51st in the league among popular lineups.
By comparison, the Heat’s most used lineup in 2013-14 (Shane Battier, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, LeBron James and Wade) spent 429 minutes together on the floor. Miami’s second-most popular lineup — with Ray Allen in for Wade — spent 196 minutes together.
Last season, the NBA champion Warriors had their best five out on the floor together for 813 combined minutes in the regular season, third-most in the league behind the Clippers (1,217 minutes) and Hawks (915). The Cavaliers, whom the Heat hope to challenge for Eastern Conference supremacy, ranked sixth (481 minutes).
How do you speed up the process of building chemistry?
The Heat started that back in August when Bosh invited teammates and coaches to his house in Los Angeles for a four-day getaway. Bosh rented two RVs and the team drove out to Joshua Tree National Park to see the stars and bond over two nights.
Comedy was had, Haslem said, especially when players were lying in sleeping bags looking up at the night sky and all of a sudden Whiteside noticed he had a rather large scorpion crawling on his chest.
“I’ve never seen a scorpion that big and that fast. It was an athletic scorpion,” Bosh said. “If you want to see grown men separate quickly throw a scorpion in the middle while they’re lying down. We were being all cool looking at the stars and when we saw that and it was like ‘AAAAH!’ Guys just started running. Those are experiences you remember and that’s what made it all worth it. That alone was worth it — just the hilarity that came from that. Priceless.”
Haslem and Wade said being a tight-knit team was a key to the Heat’s three previous championships. With a roster much deeper than others they’ve had in the past, many veterans will see less playing time than they have before. So, making them feel comfortable, Wade said, is also important.
“When you come into a new situation there are always perceptions about individuals in this league,” Wade said. “You have to break through those barriers. When you’re playing on a basketball court, it’s all about trust. If you don’t trust the guy next to you then you don’t make the extra pass, the extra rotation. So you’re trying to build that chemistry early so you have that on the basketball court. The next man doesn’t want to let the next man down because of the relationship you’ve built.
“Even though one guy may get more points, more shots and headlines, everyone on this team is important. This is the time where you see that and it shows. You just have to keep that going. Throughout the year it’s going to be hard on individuals whether its injury or playing time, whatever it is and you’ve got to keep enjoying each other as teammates.”
Last Friday night, newcomers Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green kept those bonding moments going when they cooked dinner for the team. They tag-teammed their efforts on the grill at the team hotel, cooking steaks, barbecue chicken, turkey burgers and beef hot dogs as the team sat and overlooked the beach and sunset. A night earlier, Haslem said he and his teammates sat at the hotel to watch Thursday night football.
“That’s one thing I can say about this camp — we were able to work hard, but we were able to enjoy each other’s company,” co-captain and veteran Udonis Haslem said. “We had fun. It’s been awhile since we had that fun. Last year’s camp everyone was still trying to take the load off of what was going on [with LeBron James leaving]. I think this camp was a lot more fun. Everybody enjoyed being around each other. We laughed. We joked. We played. We just enjoyed each other’s company on and off the floor.
“One thing that helped us win championships in the past is how strong a group those teams were. Even going all the way back to the ’06 team, with the band of misfits we had on that team. We all stuck together. We all hung out together. If Shaq had a party, everybody was at the party. If D-Wade was having a party, everyone was at the party. Everything we did with those teams that won championships in the past we made sure we did it together. So we started that process earlier this summer and we’re going to make sure we continue that throughout the season.”