Fresh off the All-Star break and a few island vacations, the Miami Heat got back to work Wednesday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena with a new set of eyes watching practice, a “new guy” in uniform and the same, traditional outlook as far as Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline is concerned.
“I think everybody feels positive about how the last five weeks have gone,” coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked how the team — winners of 14 of its past 16 games — will go about its business before the deadline.
“The one thing that's been consistent about this organization again since Micky [Arison] and Pat [Riley] took over is it’s always about winning. If we have an opportunity to win, we’ll go all in and commit to it. And that’s really been the mindset. So, it doesn’t guarantee anything. But our players, staff feel good about the direction this team is going and understand how competitive it will be the next 25 games. We’ve earned the right to be in that battle [for a playoff spot] this time of year.”
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The Heat (25-32) will open that final slate of 25 games Friday in Atlanta two games behind Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Although Miami doesn’t appear to have the assets (draft picks) to upgrade the roster without significantly altering its future, the makeup of the seven teams within six games of the final three playoff spots in the East could change drastically before then.
The Pacers (29-28), Bulls (28-29) and Pistons (27-30) — currently sixth through eighth — have all reportedly been shopping their best players at the deadline.
Heat point guard Goran Dragic, once expected to be dealt before the deadline when the Heat owned the second-worst record in the league at 11-30, knows what it’s like to drive himself crazy looking at trade rumors.
The Heat acquired him at the deadline two years ago from Phoenix. He’s not going to do the same thing this time around.
“Each individual is different,” Dragic said. “Some young players have never gone through it and they’re checking Twitter all the time and that stuff. With me, not so much anymore. I’m past that. If it happens, it happens. Sometimes if you read too much, your head can explode and that’s not good either.
“Like I said before, I feel great here. I feel like we have a good chemistry and we’ll see.”
BATTIER AT PRACTICE
Former Heat player Shane Battier, who joined the front office last week as the director of basketball development and analytics, watched Wednesday’s practice alongside Riley and Arison.
“I think it’s great and I think it fits really the history of this franchise since Micky and Pat took over,” Spoelstra said of Battier’s hiring.
“What’s really important as you develop a culture is that you have a living, breathing culture of guys who have been through it, guys that believe in it, guys that have proved it. With Shane it took us forever to acquire him as a player. We always wanted him as a player because we thought he was absolutely a Miami Heat DNA-type fabric player. We had him three brief years, but incredible success. And now we get to get to continue it.”
Spoelstra said Josh Richardson, who has been out with a sprained left foot since Jan. 8, will return to the rotation Friday against the Hawks. Richardson had been participating in full contact work for the past two weeks, Spoelstra said.
How Richardson fits into the rotation — and whose minutes he eats up — remains to be determined.
“I’ve been keeping my conditioning. So I think I'm ready,” said Richardson, who returned from the break with his hair braided and got some teasing from teammates.
“I got introduced as the new guy in practice today. But it was a good reception.”
▪ Forward Justise Winslow, who had season-ending right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in early January, no longer has his arm in a sling.
“I think he may be arguably the most excited guy in in the gym right now,” Spoelstra said of Winslow, who began light rehab work on Wednesday. “Patience will be his word. He has to really be methodical in the next step of his recovery.”