Barry Jackson

Small forward questions linger for Heat; Heat nuggets

Miami Heat Josh Richardson looks for the basket in the final seconds of the game as they play the Denver Nuggets at the AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Florida, April 2, 2017.
Miami Heat Josh Richardson looks for the basket in the final seconds of the game as they play the Denver Nuggets at the AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Florida, April 2, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of Friday Heat notes:

• The starting group of Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Hassan Whiteside hasn’t been anything special in the first two preseason games, and a case could be made for Erik Spoelstra to at least take a look at Josh Richardson starting at small forward – in place of McGruder – alongside the other four starters.

Richardson played with Dragic, Waiters, Johnson and Whiteside late in the first half of Thursday’s 107-88 loss at Brooklyn, a game in which Miami seemed a step slow and shot 4 for 27 on threes.

But there’s also a strong argument for sticking with McGruder, beyond the fact he’s a good “glue” guy. Consider:

The lineup of Dragic, Waiters, McGruder, James Johnson and Whiteside played 54 minutes last season and was nothing short of extraordinary offensively.

During those 54 minutes, the Heat scored 154 points, shot 61.9 percent (60 for 97) and 18 for 34 on threes (52.9 percent). The Heat outscored teams by 29 points during those minutes.

And there’s this: The Heat played 75 lineups more than 12 minutes last season. Of those 75, no five-man unit shot better from the field than Dragic, Waiters, McGruder, James Johnson, Whiteside.

So while Richardson warrants a chance to compete for the starting small forward job, last year’s fairly small sample size makes a strong case for McGruder.

• James Johnson hasn’t been very good as a starter through two games; he’s a minus 20 in 39 minutes, with four points and six rebounds and 2 for 9 shooting from the field. But there should be no rush to judgment there, because he remains the best option for starting power forward.

One Eastern Conference scout said a Whiteside/Kelly Olynyk pairing in the starting lineup would slow down a team that wants to play at a higher tempo.

And Justise Winslow, who shot 2 for 7 off the bench on Thursday, needs to improve his shooting significantly to become a viable starting option at power forward.

• The 6-6 Richardson, who had 21 blocks in the Heat’s final 14 games last season and four in the preseason opener (but none Thursday), said he wants to lead all NBA guards or small forwards in blocked shots and break Dwyane Wade’s franchise mark for blocks by a wing player.

Wade is second behind Alonzo Mourning on the Heat’s all-time block list with 759; Eddie Jones at No. 10 (246) is the only other wing player in the Heat’s top 10.

“Last year, D-Wade was kind of like, 'J-Rich is trying to break my shot-blocking record.' I said, 'Yeah, I'm going to break it. And I still believe I'm going to break it.' I want to be the best at that.”

Of wanting to lead all guards and small forwards in blocks, Richardson said: “It's definitely a goal. I want to be the best.”

The key to blocking shots as a wing player, he said, is “just being able to recover and read peoples' feet. That's how I get a lot of my blocks.”

• Richardson seems genuinely indifferent about whether he starts or comes off the bench.

“I don't know; I don't care,” he said. “I know I'm going to be on the floor enough minutes. If Rodney starts, if Justise starts, me I don't care. We're all going to play.”

• Richardson played 80 percent of his minutes at small forward last season and he doesn’t expect a difficult transition to that position.

“It’s just sliding over a little bit,” he said. “It definitely will be different against the superstars – [Kevin Durant], LeBron [James], Carmelo [Anthony] - just because they're so much bigger than everybody else at the position. But against normal players in the NBA, it's not much different.”

• Rookie Bam Adebayo has played just six minutes in each of the first two preseason games and has two points, one steal and two rebounds.

The Heat’s third of six preseason games will be Saturday at Orlando (7 p.m., Fox Sports Sun, 790 The Ticket).

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