With 20 games left in the season, the Heat still has no clarity on one key question: Who’s the best option to start alongside Hassan Whiteside at power forward?
Neither Justise Winslow, James Johnson or Kelly Olynyk has completely latched onto the job, though all have had their moments.
And Erik Spoelstra said Olynyk, who started Thursday against the Lakers, would return to a bench role Saturday against Detroit, partly because of a personal issue that Spoelstra said would sideline backup center Bam Adebayo for one game.
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• When Whiteside has played alongside Johnson, the Heat has been outscored by 44 points in 475 minutes. Miami is 5-6 when Whiteside and Johnson start together.
• When Whiteside has played with Olynyk, the Heat has been outscored by 22 points in 176 minutes, and Miami has shot 25 for 89 on threes (28.1 percent). The Heat is 7-4 when Whiteside and Olynyk start together.
• When Whiteside has played with Winslow, Miami has been outscored by 20 points in 452 minutes. Miami is 10-11 when Whiteside and Winslow start together.
• When Whiteside has played with Adebayo, Miami has been outscored by 21 in 52 minutes.
Spoelstra downplayed the starting power forward issue on Saturday, saying "I don’t think that’s even necessary to even come up with that answer now. I feel very comfortable with that position. That is a position of strength for us as far as productivity and versatility."
Spoelstra said Winslow "in general has been playing productive basketball recently. His game is not defined by what position he’s playing. It’s his impact on the court, defensively, the winning plays and you see him start to be a little more aggressive with the ball as a playmaker regardless of what position that is on the court. His ability to get in the paint and make some plays and shooting the ball with great confidence right now."
Spoelstra was asked if he has given any thought to Luke Babbitt starting, considering Miami was 21-14 when he started last season as a placeholder, limited-minutes power forward?
"Luke is a guy we all like having on the floor, not for big minutes," Spoelstra said. "But he helps your best players out there. He’s smart. He knows how to play off of guys. He knows how to be in the right spot defensively. But I am not looking for anything from last year. This team is totally different."
Spoelstra said Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington would miss Saturday’s game against Detroit with thigh bruises.
• Dwyane Wade has scored 52 points in his last 51 minutes heading into Saturday’s game.
"This is 2008 Olympic Dwyane Wade," Spoelstra said. "I’ll take that guy. Shave his head, too."
• Spoelstra said when he summoned Wade off the bench in his first game back, "I said, ‘Dwyane, get in there and both Wayne and Dwyane looked up and both were getting ready to get in the game. And also I had only coached one game before, San Antonio game, where he was coming back from injury. We brought him back off the bench one game. That certainly was unique for me. I was always used to him being the starting lineup.
"I love the special moments you have in a coaching career, being able to coach a Hall of Fame player like that. To not coach him for a couple of years and then be able to have that opportunity again that’s unique, that’s special and I want to enjoy it…. I said that kiddingly before but it really is similar to the [bench] role he had with the USA team, you come in and be a force of nature."
The Heat still has a $5.5 million disabled player exception that will be lost if not used by March 12. But there might not be anyone worth using it on.
Players who have been in the NBA this season must have been bought out by Thursday to be playoff eligible with another team. That player could sign with a new team anytime before the end of the regular season. Shabazz Muhammad, the last player to be bought out last week (by Minnesota), reportedly will sign with Milwaukee.
Among players bought out in recent weeks, Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright signed with Houston, Greg Monroe with Boston and Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova with Philadelphia.
Derrick Rose and Tony Allen are still available, but neither apparently has piqued the Heat’s interest.
If the Heat added a bought-out player, it would need to create a spot on its 15-man roster. So the Heat must ask itself this before March 12: Is there any player worth signing that would make our roster better than, say, Jordan Mickey?