Barry Jackson

Thoughts, notes from Heat’s season-opening loss in Orlando

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) blocks a shot by Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo (13) as Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) helps defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) blocks a shot by Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo (13) as Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) helps defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) AP

Twenty thoughts and notes from the Heat’s disappointing 116-109 opening night loss to Orlando at Amway Center:

• Until the Heat ratched its defensive intensity during that frenetic late run, three staples of the 30-11 second half run last season were missing: exemplary guard play, superior three point-shooting and alertness and attention to detail on defense, which often sparked Miami’s ability to play up-tempo during last season’s mid January-to- mid April joyride.

The guard play wasn’t very good, with Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters combining to shoot 13 for 36.

The three-point shooting certainly wasn’t any good, with Miami closing 8 for 30.

And the defense was delinquent for much of the night. Miami was beaten downcourt several times in transition (outscored 11-2 on fast break points) and even allowed an Elfrid Payton hoop seconds after a Heat basket.

The pick-and-roll defense wasn’t at its best. Too many times, Heat players were broken down, with Evan Fournier among those doing the most damage, or too slow in rotations, leaving open shooters. And there were entirely too many second-chance points.

There was also the issue of the Heat failing to corral enough 50-50 balls. Miami seemed a step slow defensively at times, including one instance where Orlando missed a free throw but got the rebound and turned that into an open three by Terrence Ross.

“We were on our heels virtually the entirety of the night,” Erik Spoelstra said, via Fox Sports Sun. “We never really got a handle on our defense. That’s not a formula for us to give up 116.”

• The numbers certainly were there for Hassan Whiteside, who set the Heat record for rebounds in an opener with 22 and scored 26 points.

Per AP’s Tim Reynolds, Whiteside became the fourth player in 30 years with at least 25 and 20 in a season opener. Kevin Garnett did it twice and Charles Barkley and Shawn Kemp once each.

• But Whiteside, who had one block, wasn’t always at his best defensively; he was left flat-footed or was slow on rotations a few times. He was caught watching on an Aaron Gordon dunk. Later, Nik Vucevic dunked when Whiteside wasn’t looking.

When asked about Whiteside’s night, Spoelstra withheld praise, pointing to the 109 points and saying “those numbers are empty” without better defense by everybody.

• Hard to explain, or justify, four consecutive losses to an Orlando team that most expect will miss the playoffs.

This was the type of loss that will have some Heat fans asking, “Did they clog their cap with a bunch of average players around Whiteside and Goran Dragic?”

Of course, it’s way premature to ask that yet, with this team deserving the benefit of the doubt - and a substantial leash - in the first several weeks of the season because of last season’s 30-11 close.

• Yes, injured Rodney McGruder was missed, not only because “he’s a stabilizing force at both ends,” as Tony Fiorentino said, but also because keeping Josh Richardson on the second unit would have given that group more punch.

• Justise Winslow might have been Miami’s second best player on this night. He hit his first three shots - two forays to the basket and a three-pointer - was effective in a point forward type role and was active defensively, closing with 10 points (4 for 8 shooting), four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 23 minutes.

He had a team-worst minus 13 plus/minus but that wasn’t reflective of his play.

• Though Kelly Olynyk started (more on him in a minute), James Johnson joined the other four starters during that 23-8 burst that closed Orlando’s lead from 17 to two.

Johnson was terrific during that run, both defensively and getting to the rim, a strong end to a night when he was in serious foul trouble and had to leave with his fourth foul just one minute into a third quarter appearance.

One concern with Johnson: He was 1 for 18 on threes in preseason, missed his two threes on Wednesday and didn’t even think about taking an open three in one sequence. You hope last season’s much-improved three-point shooting wasn’t an anomaly.

J.J. had four turnovers but also filled the box score with 11 points, four rebounds, eight assists and a block.

• The Heat simply couldn’t get a stop after closing to within two. Orlando scored on its next four possessions to seal it, with Fournier scoring over Richardson on one sequence and driving by him for another.

• Richardson made one of the night’s most regrettable plays, committing a foul on Ross far from the basket with less than a second on the shot clock and the Heat down five with 39 seconds left.

Making his first opening night start, Richardson didn’t take a shot in his first seven minutes and closed with 10 points (4 for 9 shooting and 2 for 7 on threes).

• Waiters’ night was uneven. He did damage at times when he got to the basket but Vucevic blocked him on one drive and he missed a didn’t-have-to-be-that-difficult reverse on another drive. He committed multiple turnovers (three), which is now almost a given with Waiters, considering the ball is in his hands so much.

And his jumper remains hit and miss. He didn’t hit a basket outside the paint until late in the third quarter and shot 7 for 17 from the field and 1 for 6 on threes.

He needed his ankle re-taped at one point and he moved well after returning. “We’ll have to wait and see,” Spoelstra said regarding the ankle.

• I don’t question Spoelstra resting Dragic for the final four preseason games, but it’s possible there could have been some early rust.

He opened 3 for 10 from the field and ended the night 6 for 19, scoring 17 points. He played a clean floor game (six assists, no turnovers).

• Olynyk had some good moments as a starter, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists, shooting 3 for 7 from the field and 1 for 2 on threes in just 21 minutes, while also picking up four fouls.

He’s an excellent screener and does a bunch of other things well, including drawing two offfensive fouls Wednesday.

The question, which one scout raised to me, is whether Olynyk’s presence in the starting lineup will slow down the first unit.

The Heat was beaten down the court several times with Olynyk on the court, but Olynyk was hardly the only one responsible for that.

• Asked if he will stick with this lineup, Spoelstra was non-committal. “As usual, I will reflect and study.”

• Spoelstra’s rotation included inserting James Johnson and Tyler Johnson at the same time, with Johnson replacing Olynyk, and Olynyk later coming back to give Whiteside some rest. Winslow was the eighth Heat player to enter the game and third off the bench.

• With Okaro White unavailable because of a shoulder injury, Bam Adebayo was Miami’s ninth player to enter and his play was unremarkable: no points (one missed shot) or rebounds or blocks in six minutes, all in the first half.

Wayne Ellington was the 10th to enter.

• Ellington, by the way, continued to struggle after a difficult preseason, shooting 0 for 4 on threes and 1 for 5 overall in just 10 minutes. He’s too good a shooter for that to continue.

Tyler Johnson also struggled with his shot, finishing 3 for 9 from the field and with seven points in 21 minutes. Certainly, more is needed from both of Miami’s best perimeter bench scorers (Ellington and Johnson).

• Dragic drew a foul on a three-pointer 33 times last season, but he didn’t get any foul call when he tried the same trick Wednesday. A rule change will make it more difficult for him to draw those calls this year.

• Whiteside hit the first three point attempt of his career. “I was like, ‘Why not?’” he told Fox Sports’ Sun’s Jason Jackson. “I shoot it all the time at practice.”

• Players bemoaned the defense afterward. “We didn’t have each other, didn’t have our backs,” Dragic said on Fox Sports Sun.

Winslow said: “We have to do a better job communicating.” You would think that wouldn’t be an issue, considering much of the team is back. But then you remind yourself that Winslow - who didn’t play a game after Dec. 30 - and Olynyk are still getting accustomed to playing with this cast.

• Rebounding was also an issue aside from Whiteside, with Miami beaten 51-44 on the boards. Waiters didn’t have a rebound in 38 minutes. Richardson, thrust into a small forward role, had two in 35 minutes.

The Heat needs better board work from its wings.

Here’s my Wednesday dive into Malik Rosier’s evolution and what he did after Mark Richt said he wouldn’t play for him.

Here’s my newsy Wednesday six-pack of Dolphins notes.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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