In the early going of this season, when Goran Dragic was struggling, Luol Deng was out for two weeks with a hamstring injury, and Hassan Whiteside wasn’t playing much at all in the fourth quarter, the Heat’s bench was stepping up in big ways to fill in the gaps for the starting unit.
Lately, though, things have trended in the other direction.
Why? Chris Bosh has a pretty good idea.
“Injuries and scouting reports,” said Bosh, who is usually the first Heat starter to go to the bench and then the only starter on the court late in the first quarter and early in the second when the second unit is on the floor. “It’s like I tell young guys when they come in the league, it’s easy to be successful early. But when that scouting report comes out — that’s the challenge.
“And I think Josh [McRoberts] being out kind of greatly affects the second unit and the ball movement. Because he’s a ball mover, a solid guy on defense, rebounds and gets five assists a night, gets guys involved. So, that kind of affected our ability to get stops and get runs because we were kind of comfortable when he was in that rotation.”
McRoberts’ absence over Miami’s past 11 games can’t be ignored. When the Heat’s “point forward” was in the rotation and playing meaningful minutes through Dec. 7, the Heat bench was plus-22, averaging 25.2 points, 7.0 assists and shooting 43.2 percent from the field.
Since then (he played four minutes at Charlotte on Dec. 9 and hasn’t played since), the Heat bench is minus-12, averaging 24.1 points per game, a league-worst 4.8 assists and shooting a league-worst 39.6 percent in 17.6 minutes. Not having Tyler Johnson (shoulder) either for eight of nine games after the Charlotte game also didn’t help.
Now, though, the Heat’s backup point guard is back and coming off an encouraging 13-point, three-assist game in Tuesday’s loss at Memphis.
On Friday, when the Heat (18-13) plays host to the Mavericks at AmericanAirlines Arena, rookie swingman Justise Winslow, Miami’s best defender off the bench, will likely be back. Winslow (ankle) participated in Thursday’s full contact practice and, barring an unexpected setback, should be available Friday, coach Erik Spoelstra said.
But there’s still no definitive time line for when McRoberts will return from the bone bruise in his knee. He continues to practice off to the side, Spoelstra said.
“We all miss Josh,” Dwyane Wade said. “That’s a big hole, gap in the second group. But the second unit has to figure out when it’s struggling how to do things a little different.
“Sometimes I think the second unit gets into playing the same game always. Sometimes it’s home-run basketball, and that’s not always good for us. Just like it’s our job in the first unit to start off moving the ball around, the second unit has to play together more, trust each other more. Because they can be a very dynamic group. With Gerald [Green] out there, CB out there, Tyler out there, guys like that can score the basketball. But they’ve got to play together.”
▪ So why has Amar’e Stoudemire played in three consecutive games after seeing the court only three times in the Heat’s first 28 games? Well, besides the fact Miami was trying to shorten the season and workload for the 33-year-old, Spoelstra said Thursday it also “seemed like the right time with J-Mac out to get a little bit of a scoring threat with the second unit.”
Spoelstra said he’s stuck with Stoudemire and not played Chris Andersen to simply “try to find as much stability as possible.” But Spoelstra said he wouldn’t hesitate to play Andersen if needed.
▪ Spoelstra said rookie Josh Richardson, who was sent down to the NBA’s Developmental League on Wednesday for the first time this season, will begin doing short stints from time-to-time with the Sioux Falls Skyforce to get playing time — much like second-year forward Jarnell Stokes has been doing since the Heat acquired him from Memphis.
Spoelstra said the Heat wanted to send Richardson down a couple weeks ago but couldn’t once Johnson injured his shoulder and missed eight of nine games.
“We’ll send him for two games right now and then when we head West we’ll try to get him some more games [with us],” Spoelstra said. “I want to get him 30, 35 minutes [a game in the D-League]. He’s drilled possibly as much as he can, two-on-two, with coaches, with [assistant coach Chris Quinn]. He needs live reps right now. Two games will be a good start in that direction. But he needs even more playing time than that.
“Every time we send Josh or Jarnell it will be for short stints and then we bring them right back, so they still feel a part of the team.”
Friday: Mavericks at Heat
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Mavericks lead 30-27.
Scouting report: Dallas, which split the season-series with the Heat last season, has been a bit of a surprise after a 19-13 start. Former Miami Christian standout J.J. Barea will likely start again at point guard for the Mavericks with Deron Williams still dealing with a hamstring injury. The Heat is 14-15 all-time against Dallas at home.