“Who’s starting?” is a commonly asked question before each Miami Heat game. But it’s not just the fans who are wondering, it’s all the Heat players, too. There’s an embarrassment of riches on the Heat’s bench, which means it’s always a wonder who will start alongside star players Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
As the Heat prepare to take on the Milwaukee Bucks in back-to-back home games starting on December 29, the uncertainty of who will have the most minutes on the court not only keeps Miami’s players on high alert, it throws a curveball to the opposing team.
With a position-less roster, Miami’s head coach Erik Spoelstra has enforced a “team-first” mindset in the locker room and on the court.
“You just can see and sense it with Spo that everything changes on the fly and you gotta be ready,” Meyers Leonard said. “We have our foundation and we have our habits. But then there are small tweaks every single night. He says, ‘No, we’re getting this one win.’ Then — boom — we’ll make adjustments and we’ll move to the next game.”
While it could be extremely frustrating not knowing who’s going to start, Leonard says it doesn’t matter as long as everyone is ready to play to win.
“That’s the one thing I love about Spo. His passion for the game is second to none. It truly is,” Leonard said. “Again, the attention to detail, each player understanding their own individual matchup, understanding the team aspect of what we want to do on both ends of the floor. Make no mistake, it’s clear cut what we’re looking for on both ends. And you get that one win, and — boom — you move on.”
Butler’s Injury Throws an Extra Curveball to Miami’s Starting Lineup
Spoelstra shared a major update on Jimmy Butler‘s right ankle injury on December 28. He said the five-time All-Star is “doubtful” to play due to lingering pain from the injury obtained during the team’s season opener against the Orland Magic last week.
While Butler, 31, started for the Heat during their home opener on Christmas Day, he did not return for the second half of the game. If Miami’s biggest star can’t play against Milwaukee, which player will Spoelstra tap to start instead?
It appears that guard Kendrick Nunn, who after going undrafted in 2018, finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, might be the one to step up in Butler’s spot.
We need THIS Kendrick Nunn back this szn pic.twitter.com/OIjWrZnLoj
— Nick🔥⚡️ (MIAMI HEAT EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS) (@Nickheat3) December 21, 2020
On Monday, Coach Spo said he “is comfortable with Kendrick Nunn stepping in, with Butler likely to miss at least Tuesday vs. Bucks,” Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman tweeted. “K-Nunn is a really good player. He’s got a great knack for scoring and putting the ball in the basket.”
Avery Bradley, Goran Dragic & More Have Already Proved They’re Ready to Step Up
When Butler didn’t return to the court after his sprained ankle stiffened up on Christmas, the team didn’t unravel and lose their 23-point lead. They did quite the opposite.
In particular, Avery Bradley, Goran Dragic, and rookie Precious Achuiwa showed some serious star power in the team’s 111-98 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Bradley, who made his debut with the Heat on Christmas, notched 12 points, four assists, two rebounds, and two steals.
Yesterday, Avery Bradley…
-Ran 2.22 miles (second-most on the team behind Duncan)
-Racked up two deflections
-Totaled two steals
-And held his defensive assignments to just 2-of-10 shooting, including 1-of-7 from downtown. pic.twitter.com/TAlnHtwosj
— Joseph Beguiristain (@JoeBeguiristain) December 26, 2020
Post-game, however, Bradley kept the praise on Dragic, and Achiuwa, the latter of whom also had his debut with the Heat on December 25, collecting 11 points, three rebounds, and two assists. Bradley said:
I think this second group is unique in a lot of ways. The talent, obviously. You have some guys that arguably would start on other teams or this team. And you know, they’re able to step up to the plate every single night. [Goran Dragic] is just amazing. He makes the game easier for everyone. Whenever you’re playing with a rookie like Precious that has that energy, that energy transfers to everyone else. We’re able to feed off it and it ends up being contagious. You want to have a guy on the floor like that.