Heat pass first test second half of schedule will bring, with more to come

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Khobi Price, South Florida Sun Sentinel
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The Miami Heat (20-18) passed the first test that the second half of the season will bring — but there are many more to come.

Their victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday completed the first of nine sets of back-to-back games the Heat will play over their last 36 games compared to the four they had during the first half of the pandemic-shortened 72-game season.

“Back-to-backs are what they are. With the additional testing, it can be crazy,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, with the team set to play the Orlando Magic on Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Amway Center before another back-to-back set versus the Cleveland Cavaliers at home on Tuesday and against the Memphis Grizzlies on the road on Wednesday. “You get in at 4 a.m. and you’re up at 9 a.m. testing. It’s not easy.”

Spoelstra and Heat players have described the second half of the season as a “sprint”, with even fewer let ups than the first half brought.

The Heat are scheduled to play 36 games over a 67-day span in the NBA’s second half of the regular season compared to the 36 games they played in 72 days leading into the All-Star break.

“That experience [in the first half of the season] prepared us for this,” Spoelstra said. “That was pretty fast. A lot of guys had opportunities to step up and play meaningful minutes and show that they can be productive. That depth will be useful and we’ll use it appropriately.”

Because of the scheduling format — in addition to Bam Adebayo’s injury-related absence over the past three games — KZ Okpala and Chris Silva have both played greater roles in the Heat’s rotation in the Heat’s first two games since the All-Star break,

Spoelstra recognized there’s a greater need to maintain the players’ workload ahead of the Heat’s third game of a stretch of five matchups in seven nights.

“We also have to be very mindful of the workload of our guys, and we’ll take that day by day,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot more communication about it. And we feel that we’ve developed our depth the last few weeks where it’s functional depth, where guys have really stepped up and have been able to have bigger roles and produce for us.

He added: “It might not mean days off, it just might mean — something like you saw [Thursday] night [against the Magic], playing 11 guys.”

But managing workloads doesn’t necessarily mean having how many minutes a player will be on the floor determined before the game starts.

“We’re just communicating a lot more about it, on day-by-day, game-by-game basis,” Spoelstra said, “on how many minutes and what those minutes looked like and felt like.”

A silver lining to the Heat only having five breaks longer than one day in between games over the second half of the season?

They have the East’s second easiest schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, according to NBA.com.

Stepping up

There isn’t one player who can replace what Adebayo brings to the Heat, but Kelly Olynyk has been doing his best to fill the gaps from a playmaking standpoint during Adebayo’s absence.

Olynyk has averaged four assists to just 1.7 turnovers over the Heat’s past three games.

Even after going 1-of-4 on 3-pointers against the Bulls, the 6-foot-11 Olynyk has averaged 15.7 points on 52.9 percent shooting on 3-pointers since Adebayo’s been out after an 11-game stretch where he shot 15.2 percent on 3s.

“It’s a luxury to have multiple bigs that can dribble, pass and just have that feel,” Duncan Robinson said of Olynyk. “Offensively, he just provides space, obviously but so much more than that. His ability to playmake and pass, and just his feel — he’s played really well. He does so many things that don’t necessarily show up in a box score.