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Winslow, Butler Practice for Miami Heat, Will Travel

For all their success this year, the Miami Heat have yet to accomplish one important goal . . . fielding a healthy roster.  The Heat came into the season missing their newly signed superstar, Jimmy Butler, due to the birth of his first child.  And there were the self-inflicted setbacks, most notably from high-paid reserves Dion Waiters and James Johnson.

But most concerning has been the rash of injuries that has plagued the Heat’s back court rotation of Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic.  The injuries to both of Miami’s point guards has led to an increased burden on Butler and a “playoff-style” rotation of 8 or 9 players that has seemingly shown in weary legs at the end of road games and back to back scenarios.  Even with Dragic’s recent return and stellar play, the shortened rotation has still been in place thanks to the uneven play of forwards Kelly Olynyk and Chris Silva.

Reinforcements, however, look to be on the way with a breakout game from Johnson Sunday night against the Blazers.  Johnson’s size, playmaking ability and defense were on display for the first time in months as he finally received the nod from Coach Erik Spoelstra with Butler taking the night off.  “We stay ready around here,” replied Johnson when asked how he was able to shake off the rust of weeks on the bench to impact the game in such a fashion.

And it would seem that the return of Winslow may be on the horizon as he was upgraded to questionable on Sunday night, even though he didn’t play.  Monday Winslow was seen swimming with dolphins and teammate Bam Adebayo and Tuesday Spoelstra told media that he practiced with the team and was travelling to Indiana for Wednesday’s game against the Pacers, a positive sign.

Butler practiced with the team as well, which is a good signal that he will be available as well on Wednesday night.  So a fully healthy Heat squad is finally a real possibility in the coming days which should be a welcome sign to Spoelstra and his staff, as well as present new rotation challenges.  But after weeks of riding an 8-man rotation, those are great challenges to have.

Erik Spoelstra defines a max player: Butler (and not Whiteside?)

It was a simple question about missed shots.

But it was natural for some to interpret part of the answer as an subtle shot.

OK, here’s how it started:

I’ve noticed a trend.

Jimmy Butler shoots poorly, as he did Thursday against the Toronto Raptors, making just 2-of-10 from the floor.

The Miami Heat win anyway, as they did, 82-74, to rise to 25-9 on the season.

And, according to the betting data here, they’re listed as significant favorites to win tonight’s game against Orlando so things continue to look good for them, even when Butler isn’t connecting consistently from anywhere but the foul line.

In fact, the Heat are now a ludicrous 11-2 when Butler makes five or fewer field goals in a game. So it’s not an especially small sample size. Butler has done everything well in his debut season with the Heat (defense, rebounding, passing, playmaking and especially leading). Especially except shoot well from beyond 10 feet. His percentages from every spot on the floor, past that distance, are his worst since his rookie season, when he was a benchwarmer for Chicago. He’s already had 12 games this season, including Thursday, when he shot under 37 percent. That happened only 14 times all of the 2018-19 season with Philadelphia and Minnesota combined.

So I merely presented the odd 11-2 number to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after the win, acknowledging that he likely wouldn’t want Butler to keep shooting below his career marks simply to see if the Heat can win anyway.

Here’s the exchange, in full:

As you see, ESPN Sportscenter picked it up.

Why?

Well, in part because it’s a thoughtful assessment about what is really important to winning, and why Butler has been so critical for the Heat.

Spoelstra said he wasn’t concerned about the shooting. Then he pivoted.

“That’s what young players should learn coming into the league, of what a max player actually is,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not about stats. It’s not about that final number on the boxscore. It’s not about whatever 2k numbers you can get. It’s not. It’s about how your team functions and are you winning because of a player? And there is no debate about this. He’s having an incredible impact on our winning, on our bottom line, and why we chased him so hard as a max player. That should be the definition from here on out. But it’s not. It’s not clouded. It becomes about stats…”

OK, so on its face, that’s simply high praise of Butler.

So why did everyone, in the responses to the videos, start tagging @YoungWhiteside, for now-Blazers center Hassan Whiteside?

A few reasons for the connection.

Many know the checkered history between Spoelstra and Whiteside, though both have mostly praised the other since the Heat shipped Whiteside to Portland for Meyers Leonard and Mo Harkless, who was eventually dealt to the Clippers to clear enough space for Butler. Spoelstra’s frustration with Whiteside was evident the past couple of seasons, and it was mutual. Now it’s clear that Whiteside needed to go for Bam Adebayo and the team to thrive.

This was detailed on Heat media day, in my column.

But it’s the “2K thing” mostly.

That was Whiteside’s thing.

Remember Whiteside exploding on the scene, and actually winning Heat fan hearts by joking (well, not really) that he just wanted to “get my 2K rating up,” for the video game that so many players and fans play?

It stopped being cute when Whiteside began pouting about his role and touches, and it seemed as if he was more concerned with stat compiling than winning, often stranding teammates in search of blocks.

Now that Whiteside’s gone, suddenly the ball moves more on offense, with elite passing big man Bam Adebayo taking his place. Suddenly the pick-and-roll coverage is better, with Adebayo storming the perimeter to disrupt drivers before they even get near the rim. And suddenly the Blazers are struggling to make the playoffs, after making the Western Conference Finals without Whiteside last season.

And suddenly — and this can’t be overstated — Spoelstra has appeared happy again.

(And he keeps talking about “max players” and what they should be; Whiteside, of course, was given a max by Miami.)

Still, maybe Spoelstra didn’t mean anything toward Whiteside, and this was all about Butler. Certainly the Heat and Spoelstra will say so now, with Whiteside and his team making their only appearance at American Airlines Arena this season, this upcoming Sunday. We’re not necessary expecting a tribute video, but the Heat tend to go the classy route, so who knows?

Whatever was meant, or not, by Spoelstra here, this certainly makes an interesting subplot even more intriguing. Contrary to what Whiteside may have believed, the Heat now have shooters everywhere — including one from the podium, who didn’t miss his intended or unintended target Thursday.

 

Ethan J. Skolnick, the CEO of Five Reasons Sports Network, will relaunch his Season Ticket column next week with a column about Butler’s impact in other ways.

Miami Heat Defeat Wizards Behind Butler Triple Double

The Miami HEAT came into Friday night’s matchup with the Washington Wizards off of a 2-1 road trip highlighted by an OT win against the Toronto Raptors.  After another road back to back loss against one of the league’s top teams, a home tilt against the sub .500 Wizards felt like a welcome respite.

Before the game Wizards coach Scott Brooks had high praise for Bam Adebayo and the Heat coaching staff saying, “(Bam) is a bonafide star big in this league.” As a thank you for the kind words, Adebayo scored a quick 10 pts in the first quarter, including a couple of butter smooth jumpers that other teams have been daring him to take.

Adebayo got some help in the 2nd quarter as Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro came to life. Despite their efforts, the Heat trailed going into the half for only the second time this season due to an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort.  The Heat struggled to contain Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans in particular, with Bertans going 4 for 7 from beyond the arc in the 2nd quarter. Kendrick Nunn continued his recent struggles with only 3 points in the first half and a couple of sloppy sequences.

The 2nd half defense was far better than the first as the Wizards – one of the most potent offenses in the league – only managed to score 38 points.  Offensively, the trio of Butler, Adebayo and Herro continued their scoring barrage but the Heat struggled to increase or even maintain a lead going into the 4th.

So with a tight game and the clock winding down, the Heat turned to their closer.  Butler was brought to Miami for a myriad of reasons, but foremost amongst them was to give Coach Erik Spoelstra the kind of closer the team hasn’t seen since Dwyane Wade left for the Chicago Bulls.

With just over a minute left and the Heat leading 108-103, Butler had seen enough. He calmly stepped into a 25 ft 3 point shot that iced the game and gave the Heat a win. In typical Butler fashion, he stomped his way to the Heat bench after the Wizards called timeout and shared some “colorful” words with his teammates.  The kind of aggressive action that may have rubbed some of his past franchises the wrong way, is embraced in Miami, if not encouraged.

Miami went on to win by a score of 112-103 as Butler finished with a triple double (28-11-11) to remain undefeated at home. Adebayo chipped in a double double (24 pts and 14 rebs), while Herro added 22 pts of his own.

But the night belonged to Butler who shared some words with this former coach Tom Thibodeau on his way off the floor.  Thibs was all smiles as he watched his former superstar close out an opponent in familiar fashion. Seemingly happy for Jimmy, as he has finally found an NBA home.

 

Erik Spoelstra and the officials, a love story

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra had himself quite the weekend.

Miami had back to back games over the weekend against the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves. In both games, Spoelstra received attention for his antics criticizing poor officiating In crucial parts of the game. Saturday night against Milwaukee Heat center, Bam Adebayo was trapped in the corner by George Hill and Brook Lopez. Spoelstra was signaling timeout to the referees but wasn’t awarded one, this led to him running onto the court during the middle of a Giannis Antetokounmpo fast break and receiving a technical foul.  

The following night in Minnesota during the fourth quarter of a closely contested game the officials seemed to have missed a kicked ball violation on Karl Anthony-Towns. This led to an Andrew Wiggins three which ultimately sealed the game for the Timberwolves. Spoelstra was livid and individually pointed at each official during a timeout in which he appears to be yelling at them as well. 

Emotions were extremely high as both games over the weekend came down to key possessions late. Last season Spoelstra also reached a point where he was clearly frustrated with Nba officiating after a loss to the Golden State Warriors In mid-February. This year however It starts early as he has shown his frustration often with crucial calls down the stretch going in favor of the opposition. The Heat split the weekend series and find themselves at 2-1 facing Eastern Conference player of the week, Trae Young, and the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night at the American Airlines Arena. 

New father Jimmy Butler likely out for Bucks

Jimmy Butler’s official Miami Heat debut is still on hold.

Butler, who missed the season opener for undisclosed personal reasons — though the team hinted it was the birth of a child — was still in the hospital with the child and mother Friday and Erik Spoelstra said he probably won’t make the Heat’s road trip that starts in Milwaukee on Saturday.

(Butler could join the team in Minnesota to face his former team Sunday.)

Here’s Spoelstra on the happy news:

Also not with the Heat on Friday: Dion Waiters. He won’t make either part of this trip and will rejoin the team Tuesday at home. James Johnson (conditioning) is not traveling either.

So it appears that the Heat will start the same lineup they did in the season opener.

That’s Bam Adebayo, Meyers Leonard, Justise Winslow and rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro.

Nunn had 24 in his debut, and he sounded Friday as if he expected it, saying it went about how he visualized.

Here’s the clip:

Make sure to join us at GQ’s Crafthouse in Lauderhill starting at 5pm, for a watch party.

Free food, and t-shirt giveaways.

We’re 0-11.

Jimmy being out doesn’t help that. But at least we’ll be drinking.

Get Used to Kendrick Nunn

You’ll have to get used to Kendrick Nunn.

Maybe we’ve been hyping the wrong rookie.

Well, not entirely. Tyler Herro is 19. He will have much better nights than he did in Wednesday’s season opening 120-101 win for the Miami Heat against the Memphis Grizzlies, when he was often squeezed off his spots and tried to do much creating to compensate.

But it was his summer league backcourt mate, the one who has appeared polished in every game he’s played for Miami — Las Vegas to preseason to now the regular season — who shined the most.

Kendrick Nunn is 24 already. And the guard — snatched from Golden State on the last day of last season — matched his age with his scoring in his Miami Heat debut, a debut that came as a surprise starter. Not a substitute starter. That was Herro, in for Jimmy Butler, who missed the game with a personal issue (nothing to worry about). Nunn was supposed to start all along.

Think about that.

Nunn, who wasn’t drafted, who wasn’t valued enough by a thin Warriors team to be kept safe from poachers, who was an afterthought heading into the offseason, was given the starting job between Butler and Justise Winslow for the season opener at home. Ahead of Herro. Ahead of Dion Waiters, before Waiters’ complaining and IG stalking got him suspended.

Eric Reid, who has called 31 seasons of Heat basketball, tried to tell you on the Five on the Floor we posted just prior to the opener:

As Reid noted, this promotion wasn’t just about that 40-point game, mostly against Houston’s starters, in the Heat’s preseason finale. It was about the steady approach Nunn has shown for months now. His hesitation dribble is elite. He does not rush. He switches comfortably between both guard spots. He competes on defense. And he’s not afraid to pull up and launch when he sees some space.

The Heat have a long history of unearthing point guards. Anthony Carter, now on the staff, and Mike James had long NBA careers after no team really wanted either. But Nunn is a combo of the two. He shoots much better than Carter. And he’s more versatile and polished than James.

Also, the attitude.

Listen here:

 

 

NBA GMs love Spoelstra, like Miami Heat a little

The NBA’s general managers have spoken.

The annual polling of teams’ primary decision-makers was released today on NBA.com and, as usual, there are some surprises. What comes across most is how balanced the league is this season, compared to recent seasons.

We’ll get to thoughts on other teams and players in a minute but, first, how do they see the Heat.

Well, first, no one sees them winning the title this season. Neither, naturally, do we. We do — or at least I do — see them contending for the third spot in the conference behind Milwaukee and Philadelphia. No GM does, however. The Heat received no third place votes, while 18 percent of the GMs have them finishing fourth. The consensus? Seventh, also behind Boston, Brooklyn, Toronto and Indiana.

So what about players?

The Heat did not get votes for MVP, player to start a franchise with, or player who forces the most adjustments. Nor did the Heat get consideration for any particular position, in terms of being the best in the league (small forward, where Jimmy Butler, is kind of loaded).

Bam Adebayo did receive votes in the “breakout season” category (Sacramento’s DeAaron Fox was first). And while Tyler Herro did not register in the Rookie of the Year thinking (tough season to do that), he did receive 7% of the vote for “biggest steal” at his draft position, which was 13th. And Derrick Jones Jr. got 7% of the vote for most athletic player.

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Anthony Davis switched teams this offseason, so all beat out Butler in the biggest offseason acquisition category. Butler did receive a vote for best perimeter defender (Leonard and George outpaced the field). The Heat were not among the eight teams receiving votes for “most improved team.”

But this is where it gets interesting.

Remember when ESPN blowhard Dan Dakich said Erik Spoelstra was just another coach? While sitting in the same booth as our buddy Jorge Sedano?

Well….

Jorge has final say on this:

Do the Miami Heat have a Dion Waiters issue?

Dion Waiters had a great game on October 9th, scoring 19 in a preseason rout of the Charlotte Hornets.

The problem came after it.

It was reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Waiters is not happy with anything short of a starting role this season. To be clear, Waiters made no public demands. Waiters, like Hassan Whiteside (traded to the Portland Trailblazers in the offseason) aren’t by any accounts bad guys. But both, perhaps Whiteside more than Waiters, have reputations for putting individual success first. And that maybe they aren’t your prototypical Heat guys.

Waiters can help the Heat if he’s in shape, which he appears to be. His ballhandling, shooting and swagger are useful attributes. But only if he buys in. So will he start? And how will he react if he doesn’t?

The Heat don’t typically throw rookies in the fire right away, but there Tyler Herro was, opening Monday’s win against Atlanta as Waiters was inactive, and scoring the Heat’s first 14 points. Herro is making a compelling a case, with hsi shotmaking and playmaking, to start alongside Justise Winslow and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt.

It should be noted that Waiters did what he was supposed to do this summer: he got in better condition. Is he in “Miami Heat shape”? Spoelstra said at training camp Waiters wasn’t quite yet, an assessment Waiters didn’t seem to appreciate. But, as every knows by now, Miami Heat shape requires more effort to tone and condition your body than is necessary for the average NBA team. And even that doesn’t guarantee anything. You still need to fit with your teammates on the floor. The Heat have made a point of Herro’s gym rat nature. Is Waiters meeting the same standard? It’s not enough for a veteran of several seasons to just shave off a few extra pounds.

A starting spot should be determined by your level of play, chemistry with your teammates and how all of that correlates to overall team success on the court. Waiters does have chemistry with Goran Dragic; we saw that in the 2016-17 run. So it might be prudent to keep 7-11 duo intact. Waiters improved his three point shooting last year, especially in catch and shoot situations last year with Winslow and Josh Richardson handling most of the ball handling situations. However, now it’s a different team and it’s also Jimmy Butler’s team, so he’ll need to continue to build off of what he did last year and what he did Wednesday night vs the Hornets.

Yes, Waiters worked more this offseason.

But even with that, and the improvements he’s made, Spoelstra is famous for these five words: It doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Miami Heat scrimmage showcases team’s new look

The Dolphins couldn’t lose Sunday.

Neither could the Hurricanes.

And of course, neither could the Heat.

They were playing themselves, after all, for the Red, White and Pink Scrimmage to benefit breast cancer research.

Naturally, not much defense was played. But the energy was different — as in better — than it’s been the past couple of seasons. This team feels fresh.

Here’s the best from the day….

 

 

The best of an energized Erik Spoelstra press conference

Somebody’s happy again. Welcome back, Spoelstra.

If you’ve followed my feed, you’ve known that Erik Spoelstra just hasn’t seemed quite the same the past couple of years. A mismatched roster. A max player who didn’t always go with the program. Too many low-upside players who played the same position.

Well, that’s changed.

Here’s the best of Spoelstra’s very confident, very positive 2019 Miami Heat media day press conference.