Barry Jackson

Spoelstra experimenting with lineups as Johnson returns

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant drives against Miami Heat forward James Johnson during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Sun., Dec. 3, 2017.
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant drives against Miami Heat forward James Johnson during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Sun., Dec. 3, 2017. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

With Hassan Whiteside back, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is finding ways to get Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo minutes together.

James Johnson returned Wednesday night, but Spoelstra said Wednesday that he would stick with Olynyk at starting power forward against the Pistons instead of reinserting Johnson, who had been starting before missing six of the past seven games with ankle bursitis.

What about his starting lineup beyond that?

“I don’t know,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll see. I don’t know enough about any our lineups right now.”

Heading into Wednesday night’s game, here’s how the permutations have gone among Whiteside, Olynyk and Adebayo:

▪ Whiteside and Olynyk: Wednesday will be the fifth time they have started together and fourth game in a row. Before that, they started the opener and then went weeks (including through Whiteside’s injuries) without ever playing a minute together before Whiteside’s return from a knee injury last week.

Entering Wednesday, they had played 58 minutes together and the Heat had been outscored by two points in those minutes. Miami was shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 38.2 percent on threes with that combo.

But is lack of foot speed a concern with that Whiteside/Olynyk combo?

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo spoke about the challenge of defending the New Orleans Pelicans "Twin Towers" of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in their game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Dec. 23, 2017.

“It can be,” Spoelstra said. “I’m sure opponent locker rooms are saying run them, play in transition, make them have to get back. So what? You try to deal with it? If that’s what they’re saying, let’s correct it and do it.

“They have enough speed to be able to handle it. They have enough versatility. We can be better with it. No question we can be better with it. I don’t want to just say categorically that that doesn’t work. That’s an out. I don’t want our guys to have an out. Get it done. Get the job done.”

Of that Whiteside/Olynyk pairing, Spoelstra added: “There are certain parts that I really like. Other parts have to get better. Kelly is very much different than a normal seven footer.”

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said that pairing can work because “when you play the way Olynyk does, you can do it. He can handle the ball, move the ball, play on the perimeter and shoot the three. I don’t think there’s any problem when there’s a guy like Olynyk. I don’t think they have any problems doing it.”

▪ Adebayo and Olynyk: Spoelstra likes this combo. They have played 154 minutes together over 15 games and Miami is a plus 11 in those minutes.

▪ Whiteside and Adebayo: They have played one minute together, with that lineup used very briefly last Saturday against Orlando because, as Spoelstra said, “I didn’t have anyone else to throw in there. I’m not afraid of it. If we need it, I will go to it. We’re down guys. All hands on deck.”

Bam Adebayo
Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo dunks against Magic’s forward Jonathan Isaac in a game on Dec. 26. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

INJURY UPDATE

In announcing he would play Wednesday, Johnson said this is the best he has felt in a while.

“He started to say he was ready to come back a week ago,” Spoelstra said. “We wanted to pass all these hurdles before we listen to him. I’ll limit his minutes. I wouldn’t play him 30 minutes.”

▪ Wednesday will be the fifth game Dion Waiters misses with a sprained ankle.

“He’s coming along,” Spoelstra said. “He’s not ready for court work yet. All the guys are getting better so I keep it all in perspective. ...

“Educate guys on a process about what it truly means to be back to 100 percent. You may be 100 percent but when you’re injured there is a process of atrophy and weakening that you have to strengthen certain muscles again and you have to go through that fatigue of strengthening muscles. They’re all going through that process.”

▪ Justise Winslow, who has missed nine games with a sprained knee, is doing some court work but hasn’t gone through a contact practice yet.

• ESPN dropped Friday’s Knicks-at-Heat telecast and replaced it with Boston-Minnesota. The Heat game, which will be televised by Fox Sports Sun, was moved from 7 to 8 p.m.

▪  The Heat entered Wednesday in seventh in the East but just 1.5 games behind No. 4 Detroit.

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