Heat turn focus to regular season after loss in exhibition finale in Houston
The Miami Heat’s exhibition finale was more like half of an exhibition, with coach Erik Spoelstra pulling all five of Friday night’s starters at halftime of the 110-104 loss to the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center.
And even the first half hardly was the whole Heat, with Jimmy Butler making it an entire preseason without action, back in Miami following a dental procedure.
Still, even in closing the preseason at 2-3, Spoelstra felt tangible progress was achieved.
“I thought we had a really good camp,” he said. “I thought we’ve been able to get a lot of things accomplished. Different guys at different times were able to show something, some of their improvement.
“I think we made some strides throughout our roster. And I think everybody’s just looking forward now to the next few days and healing up and getting ready for opening night.”
Arguably the most significant roster development for the Heat was the return of forward Caleb Martin, who had missed the Heat’s first four exhibitions due to knee pain.
The next roster developments for the Heat are expected to come Saturday, at the NBA waiver cutdown deadline.
Carrying 19 players, the Heat must cut one and likely will trim two by Saturday’s 5 p.m. deadline. Teams are allowed during the regular season to carry up to 15 players on standard contracts and up to three on two-way deals. The Heat, because of luxury-tax implications, are expected to carry only 14 on standard contract at the start of the season.
Of the Heat’s Friday starters, Tyler Herro closed with 13 points and Bam Adebayo with 11.
From the Heat reserves, there were 17 points from R.J. Hampton, 11 from Justin Champagnie and 10 from Nikola Jovic.
Spoelstra cited Hampton’s play afterward.
“His speed, his quickness, that elevation that he has, he had a really good training camp and did some intriguing things,” Spoelstra said. “It’s part of this process. We were intrigued by him when he was available, just to bring him in the program.”
As for the teams’ approach Friday, while the Heat had all their starters out by halftime, the Rockets opened the fourth quarter with all five of their starters on the court.
Jalen Green and Fred VanVleet each scored 20 for the Rockets.
Five Degrees of Heat from Friday night’s exhibition:
1. Still down: In addition to a dental procedure sidelining Butler, who missed all five exhibitions, the Heat also were without Jaime Jaquez Jr. (groin), Josh Richardson (foot), Jamal Cain (illness) and Haywood Highsmith (knee).
Of those five, only Cain traveled, but then was unable to make it to the morning shootaround.
With Butler out, the Heat went with a starting lineup of Adebayo, Kevin Love, Martin, Herro and Kyle Lowry.
2. Martin back: The game was Martin’s preseason debut, after his offseason knee issues.
“It’s more to get his feet wet,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been banging on my door, so it’s like, ‘OK, we’ll give you something.’”
Martin played 12:46, closing with four points on 2-of-6 shooting, four rebounds and two assists, cast as the starting small forward. He likely will start the regular season as a reserve.
3. Strong start: Adebayo again set an early tone, this time scoring the Heat’s first seven points on a 3-of-3 start from the field.
In playing the game’s first 8:47 before going to the bench, Adebayo was up to 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting.
He closed with three rebounds and two assists in his 15:49.
The question becomes whether he will take the same offensive bent once Butler is back in the mix.
4. Last chance: After missing the previous three exhibitions with a hip ailment, Hampton, who is on a two-way contract, played as the Heat’s first reserve.
Hampton converted his first two shots, an athletic driving basket and then a 3-pointer.
Hampton was followed off the Heat bench by Thomas Bryant, Jovic, Dru Smith and Duncan Robinson, for 10 deep.
With all five of Friday’s starters given the second half off, the Heat opened the third period with a lineup of Hampton, Bryant, Jovic, Smith and Robinson.
Champagnie then followed off the bench in the third period, with Orlando Robinson, Cole Swider and Cheick Diallo following.
5. What’s next: The Heat now are off until Wednesday night’s 7:30 p.m. regular-season opener against the Detroit Pistons at Kaseya Center. That will be followed by a challenging three-game trip against the Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks.
“We have a lot of familiar faces, and we have great continuity. But the team feels different,” Spoelstra said of his2023-24 roster. “So I’m looking forward to this new challenge and how things will be different, and hopefully better.”