Preseason Game Recap (The saddest 3 words in sports)

Recap

A preseason game recap . . . so it’s come to this. But in all honesty, this was probably the most excited I’ve been for a Miami Heat preseason opener in quite some time. Not because of any realistic chance at championship glory, but for the level of uncertainty that this rebuilt roster brings. On paper, this year’s Heat roster looks like a ragtag group of castaways, journeymen and promising young talent. But a closer look at Tuesday night’s opener may have revealed more than that. Here are 4 takeaways from the exhibition:


Confident Justise is confident This looked like Summer League Justise Winslow. An extremely gifted defender who’s also comfortable on the offensive end, handling the ball, distributing and finishing. The jumpshot looked better, but even more encouraging was the effortless transition into creator and scorer for the offense alongside Goran Dragic. Winslow promised a more aggressive attitude on offense this season and so far, he’s shown it. Whether this transformation was natural or accelerated due to the absence of Dwyane Wade, we’ll never know. But this is the Winslow the Heat need this year if they want to exceed expectations.

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I’m not mad at the power forward rotation – One of the biggest question marks going into the season is the 4 spot in the line-up. Even if Chris Bosh was healthy, the combination of him and Hassan Whiteside had never proven to be a winning one. With Luke Babbitt, Derrick Williams and James Johnson, the Heat have 3 frontcourt partners for Whiteside that provide the kind of offensive spacing that made Luol Deng so successful last year. None of the options are perfect – Babbitt is a sieve, Williams is inconsistent, and James Johnson is James Johnson but combined they may prove to be a strength instead of a perceived weakness.

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Babbitt or Briante – With 14 roster spots pretty much set, the 15th seat on the bench is proving not to be as easy a decision as I once thought. Both Briante Weber and Luke Babbitt had strong performances Tuesday night, although Weber’s defense is formidable, Babbitt may provide a service the Heat are in more desperate need of three point shooting. Dion Waiters emerging as a capable ball handler may make Weber even more expendable as the Heat find they have more than enough at the guard position.

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This is Erik Spoelstra’s team – There have been many questions this summer about who’s team the Heat would be this season. Dragic seemed like the natural answer with his ball handling duties, resume in the league and scoring ability. Some argued that the max contract Whiteside signed this summer would make him the de facto leader of the Heat. Others surmised that Winslow, wise beyond his years, would fill the void left by Wade. But Whiteside had the real answer when asked this question a week ago: “It’s coach Spo’s team.”

Spo has been imploring his teams to run for years, frantically waving his arms on the sidelines after every turnover or defensive rebound. Pleading for ball movement during timeouts and post-game interviews. Demanding effort and activity on every defensive possession.

But Spo’s teams have often been filled with aging vets, huge egos and unwieldy stars. Sure, he’s been able to get through to some of the biggest names in the game (many credit Spoelstra with convincing Lebron James to play in the post) but he’s never been the biggest voice in his own huddle. This will be the first year where the most accomplished figure in Spo’s locker room is Spoelstra himself.

Indeed, Spoelstra’s stamp was all over the team’s performance Tuesday night. Every time the offense seemed to go stagnant, Spo would call a timeout to reaffirm the call for ball movement. On one such occasion, the Heat came out of a timeout with a possession where all 5 players touched the ball leading to a wide open Udonis Haslem layup.

This may be the most intriguing storyline of the season. There isn’t a single player on the Heat with the gravitas to shake off a command from the coach. To question a late-game decision or complain about his place in the rotation. Even the Heat’s highest paid player will tell you that when it comes to the Heat’s unquestioned leader, there’s one answer: Erik Spoelstra. “He’s the one with all the minutes.”

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