This isn’t what Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra envisioned over the summer. The Heat were fresh off an Eastern Conference Finals run and, according to some of the more pessimistic Boston Celtics fans, a Jimmy Butler missed three away from a chance at the Finals.
But the sizzling summer is over, replaced with the cooling realities of late November. The Heat are scuffling; a franchise usually challenging teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics in the East have found new neighbors in the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference standings. The biggest culprit is are injuries, with the triumvirate of Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo not suiting up together since November 1.
But head coach Erik Spoelstra is urging caution. After all, those players have to come back healthy at some point, right? And when they do, Spoelstra believes the Heat will return to the basketball force they’ve been for most of the century.
“That’ll be a good high-class problem when we get to that,” Spoelstra said. “When we get fully healthy, our depth, what we said, would be a major strength. Right now, it’s just about who’s available, what do we have to do to function and play closer to our identity, which we’re seeing more.”
That’s music to Heat fans’ ears. Even better: Spoelstra game planned all summer for the team at full strength.
Spoelstra: ‘Spent Three Months of Prep’ for Healthy Roster
With a lineup featuring a healthy Butler, Herro, and Adebayo as the core, the Heat should be cooking again in no time. And that’s precisely the sort of availability that Spoelstra game planned for over the summer.
“I felt like I spent all of July and August and September with that and then a full coaching retreat. I’m at a point right now we’ll get to that when we get to that. We’ve already spent three months of prep on that.”
Lineups featuring that threesome plus Kyle Lowry and Caleb Martin are outscoring opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions, a figure that proves his Heat team has potential. When you take Butler, Adebayo, and Herro out of those lineups, that number plummets to a minus-2.8 point differential. Lineups featuring a five-person group of Butler, Lowry, Adebayo, Martin, and Max Strus feature the league’s second-best point differential per 100 possessions, outscoring opponents by 31.5 points (min. 100 possessions). It’s an exciting proposition, but one that is still a little ways away.
Though his eyes might be on the promise of a better future ahead, Spoelstra still must coach in the present. And to that end, he’s urging his players to leave it all on the floor.
Spoelstra: ‘Give Us Whatever You Have’
Recently, Spoelstra summed up the Heat’s situation in a statement that sounded equal parts coaching and Emma Lazarus.
“At some point, hopefully, we’ll be getting some guys back, even if they’re not fully 100 percent, as long as they’re close enough. Maybe they can give us a little bit of reinforcement, even if it’s just short minutes. That’s where we are right now,” Spoelstra said to the Miami Herald.
“Just give us whatever you have, whatever you have, just give us. If you’re used to playing 30 minutes, give us 15. If you’re used to playing 20 minutes, give us eight. So, we can kind of manage things right now.”
On the bright side, youngsters like Nikola Jovic are getting significant time right now and making the most of it.