This certainly wasn’t a dress rehearsal, not with Okaro White opening at power forward and Wayne Ellington at shooting guard. Not with Jordan Mickey the player selected to step up with the game-winning 3-pointer just before the final buzzer.
And it is looking more and more as if there won’t be a dress rehearsal before the Miami Heat open the franchise’s 30th season Wednesday at the Amway Center against the Orlando Magic.
“I don’t feel it absolutely necessary,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, with the Heat winning 117-115 Wednesday night over the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena in the fifth of their six exhibitions. “And actually the last few years, I’ve never done, really, a dress rehearsal.”
For Spoelstra what will matter more than games such as this or Friday’s preseason finale against the Philadelphia 76ers in Kansas City are the intervening practice sessions.
“It’s more about getting consistent to our identity, making sure the players sense how he want to play, what your role will look like, feel like, within that,” he said. “Then even those aren’t totally set or in concrete, because we want guys to evolve and grow and the team to get better as the season goes on.”
With Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic given the night off, the Heat were without the three players seemingly locked into the season-opening starting lineup.
“I think Coach kind of knows what he’s going to get with me,” Whiteside said. “So I think he wants to look at some other, different options.”
As for an actual dress rehearsal with the planned starting lineup, Spoelstra appears to be on a somewhat flexible timetable.
“That may be Sunday, it may be Monday. It may be Tuesday. It may be six weeks from now,” he said, known for switching his early-season lineups. “The way we do things around here, it could be four months from now. Who knows? We’ll find something that works.”
The Heat pulled it out when Mickey, an offseason free-agent acquisition, converted his 3-pointer, closing out his 12-point night.
“It just showed some of his versatility,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been very consistent, steady.”
Spoelstra not only opened with White and Ellington, but by the midpoint of the second period had already turned to undrafted rookie point guard Derrick Walton Jr., with first-round pick Bam Adebayo, the big man out of Kentucky, also playing with that group.
Tyler Johnson (14 points), Josh Richardson (13) and James Johnson (12) all had their moments Wednesday in limited minutes at the top of the rotation, as did Ellington, who finally regained his 3-point stroke, with a 3-of-6 showing.
Adebayo then came on to lead the way with 15 points, with Matt Williams Jr. getting an opportunity to show off the 3-point stroke that has enticed the Heat, shooting 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.
And while he again struggled from the field, shooting 1 of 7, Justise Winslow did close with nine assists and seven rebounds, running the offense at the close.
As a matter of perspective, the Heat were equally fluid with their starting lineups during last year’s preseason. Tyler Johnson, who did not start once in his 73 appearances last season, started the first two exhibitions last year. Willie Reed and Derrick Williams, who was gone by midseason, started the penultimate exhibition, with Ellington, Reed and Briante Webber starters for the final game of the 2016 preseason.
“I think we’ve had enough practice time that we understand each other and each others’ games,” Ellington said of the Heat’s lineup reality not coming into focus until next week. “So I don’t feel we need to show it out on the floor these last two preseason games.
“I feel like everybody understands what we want, our style of basketball, the way we need to play to be successful.”
The night off was the first of the preseason for Whiteside and Waiters. For Dragic it made it three consecutive games off after appearing in the first two exhibitions following a hectic September at EuroBasket with the Slovenian national team.
“I’ll treat him day by day. We’ll see,” Spoelstra said of the pattern continuing with Dragic on Friday. “The big key is I just want him feeling fresh, peaking by game one. He’s in great shape, great spirits. We’ll just keep moving forward.”
As for those in action, the associated risk remains.
“If you’re out there trying to be cautious and play not to get hurt, it’s usually when something bad happens,” Ellington said. “When you’re out there on the floor, you’ve got to play regular and give it your all, but, at the same time, that’s why you see a lot of guys sitting out during preseason. It’s tough. I got hurt the last preseason game last year and it sat me down for the first 16 games.”
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