Spoelstra sows success by threading the needle with Heat playing time
MIAMI — When it comes to Miami Heat’s lapses during this roller-coaster season, managing the rotation has come down to Erik Spoelstra threading the needle.
Saturday night, the Heat sowed the rewards, with Spoelstra deftly knitting a tapestry that for the most part managed to have Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo on the court at all times, the Heat playing without either for just two of the 48 minutes.
“We’ve cycled through a lot of different things,” Spoelstra said. “At this point, it’s by any means necessary. We need consistent play throughout our rotation. And that’s the bottom line.”
With minutes that have not featured either Butler or Adebayo practically a minefield amid this 34-31 season that continues with a Monday night rematch against the visiting Atlanta Hawks, Spoelstra put any notion of minutes management aside when he played Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin all 12 in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s 117-109 victory over the Hawks at Miami-Dade Arena, while also playing Butler the final 7:05.
Spoelstra said a solid start by what had become a shaky bench allowed the Heat to buy extra late minutes for Adebayo and Herro, with each playing all but 2:30 of the second half.
“That unit that was in there,” Spoelstra said of the reserves’ play in the first half, “allowed me to give Tyler and Bam a little bit more rest in that second quarter so that they could handle those extended minutes in the second half, and basically played the end of the third quarter, throughout the fourth quarter.”
Then there was Butler, who played 33:58 after playing 33 minutes in Friday night’s home loss to the New York Knicks. Butler now has played both ends of the Heat’s past three back-to-back sets, after being held out of one of the two games of the Heat’s previous four sets due to knee pain. That is significant, with the Heat with four more back-to-back sets remaining.
“Look,” Spoelstra said, “the biggest thing is where he was three months ago, he’s in a great place physically right now. We want to keep him there. The fact that he’s now been able to play back to backs is a great sign for us. And then we’ll just see.
“Right now, because of the back-to-backs and the games that are coming one after another, this is where we have him and we’ll see where that is as we move forward. But I’m extremely encouraged about where he is physically.”
Herro said that if his minutes have to go up so the Heat can manage the minutes of Butler, 33, then he’s all in.
“Yeah, I’m young,” Herro, 23, said. “I could play 48 if he needs me to.”
Despite his overall NBA dominance, Trae Young’s 2 of 13 from the field on Saturday night was not necessarily an outlier when it comes to the Hawks star guard going against the Heat.
Limited to eight points Saturday, 19 below his season average, Young previously had a 4-of-16 game in the season opener between the two teams, with a 4-of-15 game against the Heat last season and a 3-of-14 game the season before.
“We were able for the most part contain them in transition,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a massive part of playing against this team and playing against Trae Young. You don’t think of him as blazing up and down the court. But when he gets those easy relief opportunities, then the two-on-two or three-on-three, four-on-four situations, he is a total handful.”
Named Hawks coach last week as a replacement for Nate McMillan in part to corral some of the wilder elements of Young’s game, Quin Snyder saw upside in Young’s approach Saturday.
“He was great,” Snyder said, noting Young’s 10 assists.
Snyder said Young also took a team approach to somewhat limited second-half minutes.
“I came down to tell him, ‘we’re going with the group we’re going with,’ so he didn’t check himself in,” Snyder said of the start of the fourth quarter. “And he was like, ‘I got you coach, let’s go.’ "
While Saturday was a step forward, the Heat still find themselves in a playoff race that likely would have them anywhere from No. 6 to No. 10 in the conference.
“One game at a time,” Adebayo said. “That’s all I can really say to that, one game at a time. We can’t look that we got 17 left. It’s just one game at a time. I said it earlier in the year, when you start thinking about all 17, that’s how it gets confusing. Ups and downs, one at a time.”
The Heat again are listing Kyle Lowry (knee) as out for Monday against the Hawks. He has not played since Feb. 2
But Omer Yurtseven, who has been on a G League rehab assignment has been upgraded to questionable, hinting at a possible season debut from his ankle surgery.
Jamal Cain also appears as if he will be returning from the G League, as well.
Nikola Jovic (back) remains out, with Kevin Love (rib) questionable.