Erik Spoelstra said Goran Dragic, coming off December knee surgery, isn’t ready to play 32 minutes a night when he makes his return, perhaps on Saturday against visiting Detroit.
But when Dragic — who has missed 40 of the Heat’s past 42 games — is ready for his regular minutes, Spoelstra faces a difficult decision, with these seemingly the most realistic options:
▪ Dragic joining Dion Waiters in the starting lineup, with Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside up front, and Justise Winslow moving to the bench.
That quintet has been outscored by eight points in the 10 minutes they have ever played together, all coming last season. While that lineup would reunite Dragic and Waiters, it would mean a lesser role for Winslow, who has played well as a starting point guard in Dragic’s absence.
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▪ Miami going with an undersized starting lineup with Olynyk moving to the bench and Winslow moving from point guard to power forward, alongside Whiteside, Richardson, Dragic and Waiters.
That quartet played 125 minutes together last season, the third-most on the team, and was a plus-11 in those minutes, while shooting 42.7 percent overall and 30.9 percent on threes. But Winslow’s three-point shooting has improved considerably since last season.
Asked about playing Dragic, Waiters and Winslow together, Spoelstra was complimentary, noting Dragic can play off the ball and Waiters and Winslow have grown.
But Spoelstra also likes how Olynyk is playing as a starting power forward; he had 15 points and six rebounds Thursday in Philadelphia. And though Winslow is an excellent rebounder for a guard, his 6.6 rebounds per 36 minutes are fewer than Olynyk’s 7.7 per 36.
▪ Dragic joining Winslow in the starting lineup, with Richardson, Olynyk and Whiteside up front, with Waiters returning to the bench.
But that seemingly would not be the best approach, because Waiters has done his best work as a starter. Waiters, who has made clear his preference to start, has averaged 18.4 points in his past four games as a starter.
That group of Dragic/Winslow/Richardson/Olynyk/Whiteside has played only two minutes together this season and has been outscored by two.
▪ The Heat sticking with its current starting lineup and playing Dragic off the bench.
This current Heat lineup has been Miami’s second-best unit in plus/minus, outscoring teams by 32 points in the 75 minutes that Whiteside, Olynyk, Richardson, Winslow and Waiters have played together. That quintet is shooting 48.6 percent overall as a unit.
But it would be odd for Dragic - the Heat’s only All-Star the past two seasons other than the commissioner-appointed Wade – to not eventually start again on a team that’s five games below .500.
What about the thinking that a Dragic/Waiters backcourt has had great success? That’s a bit overstated. They played well together during that 30-11 second half run in 2016-17, with Waiters playing 25 of those 41 games.
During that 2016-17 season, Miami outscored teams by 42 in 808 minutes that Waiters and Dragic played together.
But last season, before Waiters was shelved for good in December with an ankle injury, Miami was outscored by 88 points in the 606 minutes they played together — the third-worst pairing on the team.
So even though the Dragic/Waiters backcourt has had some very good moments, the Heat has been outscored by 46 points when they’ve been on the court together over 67 games.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade appreciated Allen Iverson narrating the tribute video to him that was aired on the Wells Fargo Center arena videoboard during a first-quarter timeout during Thursday’s Heat loss in Philadelphia.
“When I was a kid, Michael Jordan No. 1, Allen Iverson No. 2 and Kobe Bryant No. 2, my top three favorite players of all time,” Wade said. “To take myself out of the moment and to think about 20-some-odd years later, Allen Iverson’s voice would be the one dedicating something to me in his area, his city, I couldn’t have written it any sweeter, any better.
“I’m so appreciative of obviously every organization that does something like that because they don’t have to. The guys know he’s one of the two reasons I wear No. 3, and every time I see him it’s all love and I appreciate that and I try to rep that No. 3 to the fullest, so I hope I made him proud.”
▪ 76ers guard Ben Simmons, who exchanged jerseys with Wade after the game, said: “For me, growing up, I used to wear his shoes when he was with Converse, and I think it’s just an amazing feeling to be out there with a legend like that.”