Pat Riley said he always liked to use the first 20 games of a season as a barometer to “find out where you are.”
That has been a bit tougher this season in the Eastern Conference. With the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers only 3 ½ games up on the 10th-place Boston Celtics, Riley said it’s probably going to take at least 40 games to sort things out.
That said, Riley still likes where the Heat (15-9) stood entering Thursday — fourth in the East — and where Miami is headed. And no, he says, he’s not looking to trade center Hassan Whiteside.
“I can guarantee you there have been no discussions about the BS that you have read in the newspapers the last couple of days,” Riley said of rumors Whiteside could be headed to Houston or Sacramento. “I like our team and I want to see where we’re headed.”
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Riley said he expects the Heat, which plays the Toronto Raptors at 8 p.m. Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, will be “one of [the teams] that is going to be for real” when that 40-game mark is complete Jan. 15.
What does he like about this Heat team?
“Well, we’ve got great depth,” Riley said during a five-minute interview with The Miami Herald and a two local TV stations Thursday during a holiday event for veterans at the Miami VA Fisher House. “I think we have a three-tiered team which is we have a group of great veterans, mid-aged veterans, and then we have youth. We have a lot of spirit. There’s a lot of energy with our young guys.
“Probably some of our best defenders are our young players. They’re trying to get their offensive games to match their defensive games.”
I can guarantee you there have been no discussions about the BS that you have read in the newspapers the last couple of days. I like our team and I want to see where we’re headed.
He also likes the leadership that team captains Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem have brought.
“They have no idea how proud I am of them and how they conduct themselves every single night, good or bad — to the community, to the media,” Riley said. “It’s not easy. This league is not easy, and when there’s a high-expectation level, then you’ve got to deal with the consequences of winning and the consequences of losing, and I think our guys do it very well.”
He said coach Erik Spoelstra has done “an exemplary job.”
“I think he’s finding his way to the heart of his team and how they’re going to play, how he can adjust and make those adjustments,” Riley said. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, we have a team that can play big. We have a team that can play medium. And we have a team that can play small. You don’t want to get caught up in any one thing. You just want to create your own identity, which is what I think [Spoelstra is] talking about. Whether you’re big or you’re small, that’s how you’re going to play. I think we’re showing that.”
Still, it has been obvious at times the Heat has had trouble defending fast-paced, spread lineups. And Miami ranks next-to-last in three-point field-goal percentage (31.6). Is there still not a trade or move to be made?
“I don’t think you need to tinker with it,” Riley said of the roster. “I don’t believe a lot of things I read about our team because I know we have it. We have that in us. And so, I like what Goran Dragic is doing. I love his aggressiveness and the fact that he’s really, really attacking. I think we’re finding his game and what he’s doing extremely well.
“Luol Deng is coming back from an injury. We have Josh McRoberts. We have a lot of great players, and I think as Coach brings them all together, I think this team can be very [formidable].”
▪ The Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation will honor Riley with its “American Icon Award” at a gala celebration January 28 in Hollywood. The award is presented annually to someone who represents the highest ideals for which DiMaggio stood. Previous winners include Magic Johnson and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.