Barry Jackson

Here’s how Spoelstra is handling deepest Heat roster he has had all season

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has more appealing options than he has had all season.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has more appealing options than he has had all season.

When Heat coach Erik Spoelstra peered down his bench against Philadelphia on Thursday, he likely saw more healthy, rotation-worthy options than at any time this season.

On Thursday, that meant sitting Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt, two players who started the majority of games in the Heat’s 30-11 second-half run last season.

But that might not be the case some other nights.

Some points to consider about how Spoelstra is handling this enviable depth:

▪ Spoelstra said some rotation decisions will be based on matchups. For example, he played Bam Adebayo 13 minutes against Philadelphia because he needed a big body to defend Joel Embiid when Hassan Whiteside was out of the game. But McGruder might get minutes against teams using smaller lineups.

“It’ll depend on who we’re playing,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a playoff rotation, whatever gives us the best chance to win on any given night. I won’t play 12. But I certainly could play what we did [Thursday] night. Depth is one of the biggest strengths of this team, and we were able to utilize it [Thursday] night and wear on a team. Other than Goran [Dragic], nobody played over 28 minutes. And everybody played as hard as they could at a high level.”

▪ Spoelstra seemingly would like to make it work with a starting unit that was the Heat’s best last season in terms of plus/minus but one of its worst this season in that category.

Last season, the Heat outscored teams by 48 points — and shot 49 percent on threes — during the 91 minutes in which the quintet of Dragic, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Josh Richardson and Whiteside were on the floor together.

This season, that group is minus-26 (in other words, outscored by 26) in 139 minutes — one of the eight worst five-man units on the team — but was a plus-five in 15 minutes Thursday. And Miami is 4-3 when those five players start together, including Thursday’s win.

“A lot of energy, that group [Thursday] night,” Spoelstra said.

▪ One hope is that James Johnson and Tyler Johnson can achieve the chemistry as starters they had last season when they were two of the league’s top bench scorers. The Heat was plus-45 when they played together last season. They’re minus-39 playing together this season.

“I know how to get him shots,” Tyler Johnson said Friday. “He knows how to get me shots.”

▪ Spoelstra did something Thursday he doesn’t do a lot: play five reserves together.

The group of Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington, Dwyane Wade and Justise Winslow has played just 10 minutes together collectively — much of that Thursday — and are a plus-4.

“That group, look how many of those guys have started for us,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a heck of a group.”

▪ Spoelstra and Wade agree that 23 minutes is around the ideal amount for him and allows him to be fresh for the fourth quarter.

“If you play him 38 minutes, it might look different,” Spoelstra said. “But if you play him this kind of minutes in a Miami Heat jersey with this specific role, I truly believe he can be as good as he ever was.”

Wade, who is averaging 6.3 points on 49.1 percent shooting in the fourth quarter alone, said: “Now I kind of know my minutes, I kind of know what to expect. I definitely have felt better going down the stretch.”

▪ Some players will play less than they’re accustomed but this will vary depending on matchups and who has the hot hand. On Thursday, Richardson, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Elington all played less — between four and 12 minutes fewer than their season averages.

▪ Winslow, who seemed at risk of losing his rotation spot a few weeks ago, clearly isn’t going to. Spoelstra said this is the most “consistent” Winslow has been since his rookie season.

Winslow — who has been playing stout defense and shooting 52 percent over his past seven games — is a plus-26 for the season, but a plus-33 in 105 minutes alongside Wade.

Spoelstra said “Justise was already starting to trend in the right direction” and Wade’s arrival “was just another boost to push him a little bit further along. His big brother coming back and Justise wanting to show him how much he’s improved. Dwyane has that quality where he instills a lot of confidence in young players.”


Whiteside was measured in reacting to comments by Embiid about their mild third-quarter tussle during Thursday’s game.

Embiid said: “He tried to hit me in the back, which is kind of dirty because of the fact that I’ve had back problems. We’re going to see about that. I won’t forget about that. … He hits really soft, so I didn’t feel anything.”

Whiteside said Friday: “I was falling forward, he tried to throw an elbow, I put my hand up and my hand hit my face.”

Months after exchanging insults with Embiid on Twitter, Whiteside said Friday of Embiid: “I ain’t got nothing to say. … Another dude. He just talks more. I’m not talking no more [about him] — 2018, when he talks, no more.”