The Heat has plenty to worry about with its starting unit, mainly finding ways to get it on the court together more than the two preseason games and one-and-a-half practices they’ve had so far.
Thursday, it was point guard Goran Dragic who was out sick, marking yet another day he, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside haven’t worked together. Dragic won’t travel to New Orleans for Friday night’s final preseason game either.
That’s the immediate concern for the Heat. On the backburner: Deciding what to do this weekend with forward James Ennis and the 15th (and final) roster spot.
Although the 13 players expected to make Miami’s active roster played in Wednesday night’s preseason game against the Wizards (minus rookie first-round pick Justise Winslow, who was given the night off to rest his legs), Ennis and second-round pick Josh Richardson watched from the bench.
Richardson likely isn’t headed anywhere. But the Heat could opt to release Ennis (his entire $845,059 salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster for Wednesday’s regular-season opener) and leave a spot open for potential three-point shooting help should it become available on the waiver wire this weekend.
So far this preseason, outside of Gerald Green (14 of 34 from three-point range, 41.2 percent) and Tyler Johnson (6 of 12), the rest of the Heat has struggled from beyond the arc, going a combined 20 of 120 (16.7 percent).
“We could use more shooting,” Bosh acknowledged Thursday. “But [all teams] could use more shooting. It’s a luxury everybody wants more of. I know that the league is just going crazy with the three-point shots. We just have to get our rhythm, get our feet up under us, know where our shots are coming from and have to be confident to know when it happens.”
Ennis, it appears, has done his job this preseason picking up his play.
After a rough month of Summer League play he deemed “terrible” (he shot 29.7 percent, was 2 of 23 on three-pointers and had 23 turnovers to 11 assists), the 6-7, 210-pound swingman has shot 48.6 percent from the field this preseason, 27.3 from three-point range (3 of 11) and shown the energy and approach the Heat sought from him.
“It’s all about the approach with us — not necessarily about the result,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I know he wanted to play well. But it was more about the commitment to getting in here every day and working to get better. I’ve enjoyed the character and grit that he’s shown, waiting for that opportunity and then performing well when he’s had that opportunity.
“That’s often the biggest separator for young players trying to make it — your mindset and being able to stay on track when you’re not getting opportunities. Then all of a sudden — boom! — you have a game where you play 30 minutes. But it’s been happening for six weeks with his approach.”
Wade said Ennis, who battled knee tendinitis this summer, is looking more like the explosive player who provided a lift off the bench at times last season for Miami.
“I think the last couple weeks he just started playing like James can play, using his energy, his effort,” Wade said. “He’s a guy that can rebound the ball very well. He’s a guy that’s very active when he wants to be. He’s a guy that can shoot the ball well. He just decided to stop thinking and start playing like what got him here. It’s been good to see.
“It’s a luxury to have a guy like that on your bench. Some nights he can get you 16 to 17 points. Some nights he can get you nine rebounds. Some nights he can defend other guys, the best player. It’s a luxury.”
But perhaps it’s a luxury the Heat is willing to part with in the name of finding more shooting.
▪ Including the one preseason game in which regulars sat out, Miami’s starters are minus-38 this preseason. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves have been worse. Deng (-57), Dragic (-56), Wade (-35) and Bosh (-33) rank among the worst plus/minus players in the league.
Bosh said spacing, being able to play with pace and avoiding taking quick shots are the biggest issues for the Heat’s starting unit.
“I think right now everybody is pressing so hard to make plays that we’re not always making plays for each other,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges you have to overcome when you have a lot of talent. You have to learn how to do it together. It’s a huge challenge. But we’ll get there. We’ve done it before.”
On the flip side, Johnson (+73) ranks third overall in the NBA. Ennis is Miami’s next-best player (+51), followed by Green (+25), Mario Chalmers (+24) and Winslow (+21).