If Heat can pull off full house, who gets dealt out of mix? – Boston Herald

Cringeworthy to Erik Spoelstra is not necessarily being asked about a close loss. Cringeworthy is being asked about what comes next when the Miami Heat rotation is whole.

It rarely is a place the Heat coach is willing to go, if only because he appreciates how quickly things can turn in the NBA, and how quickly they already have turned for his team this season when it comes to the injury report.

And yet, with the exception of second-year center Omer Yurtseven with weeks still to go in his recovery from November ankle surgery, the Heat could be as close to complete this week as they have been for most of this season.

In working their way to the 16-15 record they will carry into Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls at the start of a four-game homestand, the Heat have had their preferred starting lineup for only 11 games, the unit of Bam Adebayo, Caleb Martin, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry.

And even then, continuity has been at issue, with the Heat 5-6 when starting those five.

Still, Martin certainly has ceased the debate about allowing P.J. Tucker to depart in free agency, with Martin’s three-year contract coming in at $10 million less, and with Martin, at 27, 10 years younger.

And Herro has soared to new heights as a full-time starter for the first time, averaging career highs in scoring, field-goal percentage, 3-point shooting, rebounds and assists.

No, the starting lineup has been fine, with the Heat outscoring opponents by an average of 9.7 points per 100 possessions with those five together on the court.

But if the Heat do move closer to whole, in the wake of Lowry and Martin being held out of Saturday’s victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City, and with backup center Dewayne Dedmon spraining an ankle in the first half of that game, there could be decisions awaiting from Spoelstra.

Such as . . .

Backup point guard: With Victor Oladipo sidelined by preseason knee pain until his Dec. 6 return, Gabe Vincent was given the early-season backup assignment at point guard behind Lowry.

But with Vincent dealing with ongoing knee pain, it has opened significant rotation time for Oladipo who has seized the moment.

While Oladipo’s offense has been uneven, there have been eight steals for the 30-year-old former All-Star the past two games.

For a Heat defense that is at its best when creating deflections, Oladipo has been at home in the Heat’s zone, as he was during last season’s playoffs.

If Oladipo can provide any degree of 3-point spacing, he could push Vincent further down the hierarchy, with Vincent at .297 on 3-pointers this season.

Backup wing: While the plan might have been to have Max Strus settle in as floor-spacing reserve this season, the revolving door of injuries has had Strus cast as starter in 17 of his 29 appearances.

All the while, the 3-point shooting from Strus has been erratic, with his past four games including 3 of 12 3-point shooting against the Indiana Pacers and 2 of 11 against the Houston Rockets.

Robinson, by contrast, has come around with his 3-point stroke after early-season struggles, going 3 of 6 from beyond the arc in Saturday’s victory over the Spurs, three days after shooting 4 of 8 on 3-pointers against the Thunder.

If Oladipo solidifies his place in rotation, and if the preferred starting lineup can string together a run of games together, it could create an either/or situation between Strus and Robinson.

It is possible that Strus remains the emergency starter, otherwise having to battle for playing-time scraps off the bench.

Backup center: It has been an underwhelming season for Dedmon, with a foot issue factoring into his inconsistency.

The approach in training camp had been ample time for Yurtseven. Then came the preseason ankle issue and ensuing surgery, leaving Spoelstra with little options when it came to a second big man beyond Adebayo.

With Dedmon trade eligible starting on Jan. 15, with his $4.7 million salary then available to be aggregated with another player, the Heat could elect to buy time with the power rotation as is until then or beyond, waiting for a Yurtseven return that is not likely to come until February, at the earliest, and if at all.

Orlando Robinson, who is on a two-way contract, could also emerge as a stopgap option at backup center until Yurtseven is ready.

Ninth man: While Vincent, if beaten out by Oladipo, or whichever isn’t primarily featured between Robinson and Strus could emerge as ninth man, another option there could be Haywood Highsmith.

While his offense is limited, Highsmith has shown the ability to defend multiple positions and work within the zone precepts, as well as convert the occasional 3-pointer.

Ultimately, a roster that is healthy and whole will lead to the type of tough decisions that most coaches relish. But it also could create tough times for contributors such as Vincent, Robinson, Strus, Highsmith and others.


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