Thursday afternoon was a busy day for the Heat in terms of receiving recognition.
In addition to point guard Goran Dragic being named to his first All-Star team as an injury replacement for Cavs forward Kevin Love, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was named the Eastern Conference’s Coach of the Month for January.
Spoelstra led the Heat to a 10-5 record for the month, tied for the best mark in the Eastern Conference. Miami went 5-1 at home and 5-4 on the road, highlighted by road victories over the Toronto Raptors and the Indiana Pacers.
The month included a 3-1 record in games decided by one point. The Heat opened January with six consecutive wins and ended the month with a Southeast Division-leading 29-22 record, good for fourth place in the East. Under Spoelstra, Miami ranked second in the NBA in opponents’ field goal percentage (43.0) and third in points allowed (97.8 ppg).
The Heat has held its last three opponents to under 40 percent shooting.
FOCUS TURNS TO OFFENSE
On the flip side of Miami’s excellent run on defense (the Heat ranked third in defensive rating in January), offensively it’s been a struggle of late for the Heat.
Wayne Ellington, who has evolved into the team’s primary offensive threat and ranks among the league leaders in three-pointers made and taken, was held scoreless in Wednesday’s loss to the Cavaliers for the first time since Nov. 28.
Miami hasn’t scored 100 points since it rallied late to win in Charlotte on Jan. 20, a five-game span.
“They always say you win or you learn. Today was a learning day,” Spoelstra said. “Good mental day just to try to tighten up some things. I really like some things that we have done defensively. But out of respect for our team now from the opponents, we’re starting to be defended with more force, more focus, more attention to detail to the scouting report.
“So we have to develop new layers to our offense and evolve because people are aware of us now and that comes with competition and playing well. So, we have to embrace that challenge as well.”
Dragic said Thursday’s film session hammered home the point the Heat needs to be more detailed in running its offense.
“The opponents are preparing against us and they’re scouting us. So it’s a little bit tougher on us,” Dragic said. “But at the same time, that game was winnable for us. At the end of the day, we had 20 turnovers, missed 11 free throws and we went 3 for 28 from the three-point line. We didn’t have a good offensive game, but we’re really satisfied how we play our defense. As long as we continue to play defense like that, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
WHITESIDE TALKS EMBIID
Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who exchanged social media jabs with Sixers center Joel Embiid in the preseason, will finally face each other for the first time in the regular season on Friday.
Whiteside tried to downplay the matchup Thursday – as well as Saturday’s head-to-head battle against Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond.
“I feel like there’s a ton of really good bigs in the league – a lot of good bigs,” Whiteside said. “It’s not like how it was a couple years ago. I don’t really get caught up into it. I’m just really trying to get the win and keep going up the ladder.”
Was what we saw from Embiid and Whiteside in the preseason just good old fashioned fun?
“I don’t know, man,” Whiteside said. “He’s going to talk junk regardless if he wins or loses. He just likes talking trash.”
▪ Was Whiteside frustrated that injuries this season cost him 18 games and potentially a spot in the All-Star Game?
“It’s tough. But what can you do?,” he answered. “I’m going to enjoy the rest, though. It is what it is.”
▪ Heat veteran forward Udonis Haslem was not with the team on Thursday so he could attend the funeral of former agent Henry Thomas in Chicago. Haslem is expected to be back with the team for Friday’s game against the Sixers.