The reality for the Miami Heat at the start of this pandemic-delayed NBA season is that familiar faces only mean so much if they’re not also in familiar places.
Despite bringing 13 players back from the roster that advanced to last season’s NBA Finals, the Heat have learned during their 2-3 start that when the rotation is reshuffled, a comfort zone is not necessarily guaranteed.
“I think you’re seeing it throughout the league, even with teams that brought back the majority of their players,” Heat forward Andre Iguodala said of the uneven starts of teams with returning rosters. “It’s trying to figure it out, trying to find it.
“The first month of the season you’re trying to figure it out. Some guys try to rush through it. Some guys try to be too patient with it. I think we’re just working through it, trying to be smart about it. We’ve got a lot of depth, so a lot of moving parts, depending on the games.”
Those moving parts have created five starting lineups in as many games, as the Heat now take time to regroup before Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at AmericanAirlines Arena.
While only three newcomers have been added to the roster, those three each already have had moments of truth. That, Iguodala said, means there has to be time for acclimation with Avery Bradley, Moe Harkless and rookie Precious Achiuwa.
“Adding Avery and Moe Harkless, plus Precious, a young guy, and then obviously with the few guys that didn’t come back last year, trying to fill voids here and there, especially for me, it’s about trying to capitalize on a situation that may vary from game to game,” Iguodala said.
While the Heat coalesced in the quarantine bubble setting at Disney World for the end of last season, getting back to NBA arenas has left the team in a different reality.
“We haven’t been together that long to get back in the flow with each other,” center Bam Adebayo said, with the Heat less than a month removed from the start of training camp. “So we just got to figure that out and do a better job of trying to get cohesive triggers and just play better together basketball.”
For Adebayo, the opening 10 days of the season left him starting in the power rotation alongside Harkless, Iguodala and Meyers Leonard at different times.
“We’re not going to figure this out in two days,” he said. “Coach is doing the best job he can to figure the lineup out, but also make sure our offense is flowing and is doing what it’s supposed to do. I feel like we’ll figure it out and we’ll get better together. We’re going to be all right.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said cohesion should not be a question.
“We have enough familiarity,” he said. “We know what our system is. We know what we have to do to be successful.”
Still, there was lineup stability when the Heat thrived at the start of last season, lineup stability during the playoff run to within two victories of the 2020 championship.
“Rhythm is a funny thing in basketball. It’s important on both sides of the ball,” guard Duncan Robinson said. “That’s not an excuse and we’re certainly not looking for any excuses.
“It’s just going to be continuing to work at it. We certainly have a lot to build on and we got to improve, and we know that.”
If there was a positive step in that direction in Friday’s 93-83 road loss to the Dallas Mavericks, it might have been reducing the turnovers to a season-low 16, just the second time the Heat have had fewer than 22. They entered averaging a league-leading 20.8.
“The way we execute and the way our offense flows and makes reads, it does take a little bit of time,” Spoelstra said. “We’re not just running a spread pick-and-roll with Jimmy [Butler] every single time. There’s movement, there’s cuts, there’s back cuts, there’s reads and reactions that have to happen.
“With a short turnaround [between seasons], I anticipated there would be an adjustment. I hope there’s not a long adjustment with this.”v