Typically, NBA teams like to have at least one “dress rehearsal” during the preseason before the games start the count in the standings.
But don’t expect to see one from the Miami Heat on Friday in their preseason finale against the Toronto Raptors.
After Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala didn’t play in Monday’s exhibition-opening loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Heat are anticipating that a few veteran players won’t play against the Raptors.
Udonis Haslem and Kelly Olynyk were two other veterans who didn’t play against the Pelicans, with the Heat a little over two months removed from dropping Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 11, which ended the series.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday he was still figuring out who would play among the Butler, Dragic and Igudola trio, but added, “you will not see all of them.”
“Everybody is approaching it in different ways depending on where you are,” Spoelstra said. “No, it will not be anywhere close to a full dress rehearsal for us. Our last two practices were probably a better dress rehearsal than what you’ll see [Friday].”
Dragic said he expects to play “a little bit” on Friday. The regular season opener is Wednesday at the Orlando Magic.
He added that he’s feeling “good” after tearing his plantar fascia in Game 1 of the Finals against the Lakers, and that he’s moved past the injury that forced him to miss four of six games in the series.
“Spo likes to keep me fresh, in and out so I don’t go every possession,” Dragic said. “But I did practice, so I’m feeling good. [Friday], I should expect to play a little bit. So we’ll see.”
He compared the Heat’s scrimmages and practices to the popular sci-fi/action movie “The Hunger Games.”
“We feel like that’s why we were so prepared for the bubble,” he added. “That’s why we feel this season, we’re going to be one of the best-prepared teams in the league.”
With the Heat expecting to rest some veterans Friday, there may be more opportunities for the less experienced players — such as Max Strus — to showcase what they can provide to the team.
The 6-foot-5 guard who split last season between the Chicago Bulls and their G League affiliate is likely competing with BJ Johnson for the Heat’s last two two-way spots. Gabe Vincent returned to the Heat after being on a two-way contract with them last season.
Strus (24 minutes) and Johnson (seven minutes) both played in the Heat’s loss to the Pelicans.
“I just take it one day at a time,” Strus said. “I don’t think the games mean as much as people make it out to be. I think it’s every day in practice, just making sure I’m do everything I can to compete and showcase everything I can do to help this team out.”
Friday will be the Heat’s first road game outside of a “bubble” environment since March 8 against the Washington Wizards — three days before the 2019-20 season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The season was resumed and finished near Orlando inside a quarantined “bubble” at Walt Disney World from July through October.
Dragic said “everything is different” ahead of the team’s first true road travels in nine months, with the Heat only playing two preseason games this year after playing five last season.
“If you look, this is the first preseason with COVID and everything,” he said. “All this testing, all these protocols, and then of course only two preseason games. Then right away, we’re starting a new season after finishing the NBA Finals two months or a 2 1/2 [ago]. So, it is different.
“But that’s our job. So we need to be ready. [Friday] is going to be our last preseason game. Try to get good minutes and then hopefully be ready for the season.”
Making this trip even more different for the Heat is that they won’t have to fly across the U.S.-Canada border to play their road matchup against Toronto.
Instead, they’ll only have to commute about 270 miles northwest to Tampa, with the Raptors playing their home games at Amalie Arena — home of the Tampa Bay Lightning — to start the season because of Canada’s travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
Spoelstra said he couldn’t even imagine what Raptors players, coaches and staff members are going through having to start the season playing home games more than 1,300 miles away from their families and home base.
“It’s hard enough during an NBA season traveling and then you’re ‘home’ is not really your home,” he said. “Yeah, the world is so much different. I think Toronto, their whole organization has handled it remarkably well making the best out of a really challenging and unfair situation.”