Even with the Heat without three injured shooting guards (Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington), Erik Spoelstra said Thursday he does not plan to start Dwyane Wade, who has started more games at the position than any player in Heat history.
But Spoelstra has a good reason.
“I want [Wade] to get as comfortable with that second unit as possible,” Spoelstra said after announcing Johnson and Ellington would miss Thursday’s Lakers game with bruised thighs, with Waiters (ankle) already out for the season. “That to me is a dynamic game changing lineup that I want them to continue to gain confidence in, get more comfortable with.”
And Wade is OK with that.
“As a player first of all, you do whatever the coach asks you to do,” said Wade, who has come off the bench for all games this season except three early in the season for Cleveland.
“I’m trying to get comfortable in my role now; I’ve been trying to get comfortable in it all year,” he said. “It’s the first time I ever came off the bench like this since I was like fourth grade. I’m definitely trying to get comfortable in it. I’m not there yet. … I’m not young where I got all this fire and this testosterone where I need to be out there.
“I’m cool … If I’m on the bench to start the games, if I’m on the bench to end the games, as long as we’re winning this is all I care about.”
For Wade, what’s the biggest difference coming off the bench?
“It’s a lot but I’ve never been a fast starter anyway,” Wade said. “I’ve always worked my way into playing but when you start you can get to that first timeout. When I get in a game now, the game is already gone. Teams got hot already, moving and I’m trying to get loose. It’s definitely a different mindset, a different speed, a lot of different things.
“There are some perks to it too as well. … Other guys playing on the second unit sometimes are not as experienced as I am.
“Definitely on the body and mentally it’s just different but I’m embracing it. I started embracing it when I was with the previous team because I’m a winner. I’m always about doing what I can to help, whatever team I’m on. And I’ve done that my whole life.
“Not just now, I’ve done it in the Olympics, I’ve done it all over the place. And it takes nothing away from who I am and what I’ve accomplished. I just do it different than other guys and I’m OK with it,” he said.
Wade, Ellington, James Johnson and Bam Adebayo have played 77 minutes together and the Heat has outscored teams by 10 points in those minutes. At times, they’ve been very good as a group. But there have been some defensive breakdowns other times.
“Sometimes we get lost in the game,” Adebayo said of that quartet. “Sometimes we miscommunicate on stuff. Sometimes we’re clicking on all cylinders.”
If it seems like the Heat gives up way too many shots late in quarters, you’re right. The Heat entered Thursday having allowed 38 baskets in the final two seconds of quarters while scoring only 13 baskets.
“It has been a big point of emphasis,” Spoelstra said. “We worked on it, drilled on it. We thought we were getting better at it. There have also been some crazy shots that teams have made against us at the end of clocks. You want to eliminate the easy ones.
“We did not defend it well the other night, let the ball get behind us. You don’t want a team to roll it up and allow them to roll the ball without the clock going and then they catch it at 30 feet, take a dribble and get right at the rim. … There is a balance. You want to keep the ball in front of you but you do have to pressure it,” he said.
Wade has hit 12 game-winners in a Heat uniform, according to Fox Sports Sun.
Spoelstra said he has still-shots of two of them next to each other in his home office, games against Utah and New York.
“The same amount of time on both clocks as he’s letting the ball go with 0.8 seconds,” Spoelstra said. “Iconic memories for this franchise. Just the fact the same angle, the same visual on the shot clock, the same release. Roughly the same vicinity as you saw the other night [against Philadelphia]. Those two come to mind because as an assistant we spent a lot of time working on that shot, the step back.”
▪ James Johnson said his first game with Wade was one of the highlights of his career. And Kelly Olynyk will always remember his first game alongside Wade — Tuesday’s win against Philadelphia in which Wade scored 27 points and hit the game winner.
Tuesday night “was amazing,” Olynyk said. “His basketball IQ is so high, his ability to make plays and make the right play. He’s done it so many times over and over. Watching from afar, you know how great he is, and his greatness especially in this building and this city.”
Rodney McGruder said: “I was happy I was here to witness that greatness from Dwyane.”
McGruder, appearing in his first NBA game this season after sustaining a broken tibia in October, said he was surprised he played Tuesday. Spoelstra told McGruder he wouldn’t play Tuesday but needed him after Tyler Johnson and Ellington sustained thigh injuries, both on screens.
“I was fine physically,” McGruder said. “I want to get in a little better shape.”