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Herro, Swider sizzle as Butler sits out Heat preseason-opening victory

MIAMI — Jimmy Butler’s perspective was probably best. He decided the night did not merit his involvement. Such is the value of an NBA exhibition opener.

But the Miami Heat’s 113-109 preseason victory Tuesday over the Charlotte Hornets at Kaseya Center did have its moments, including a rousing game-closing rally.

“Winning matters, finding a way even when you’re down, it matters,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

There was Heat guard Tyler Herro playing in attack mode, after being attacked on the rumor mill during the offseason, closing with 22 points in 24 minutes.

There was veteran point guard Kyle Lowry getting his preferred starting assignment, even with such a role not guaranteed going forward.

There was free-agent addition Thomas Bryant creating hope that there might be hope when center Bam Adebayo goes to the bench this season. Bryant closed with 15 points and eight rebounds in a productive 18:45.

And there was a solid close from roster hopeful Cole Swider, who followed up his solid 3-point shooting in Monday’s intrasquad scrimmage with more of the same, scoring all 17 of his points in the fourth quarter.

“Cole hit some big threes to bring us back and take the lead,” Spoelstra said. “Eventually the shots go for you, and they certainly did tonight when it mattered.”

Said Swider, “They just told me to keep on shooting. My teammates kept finding me.”

Mostly, there now is tape to work from after nothing but intrasquad scrimmages to this point.

Five Degrees of Heat from Tuesday night’s exhibition:

1. For starters: With Butler not one to play in preseason openers and therefore taking the night off, and with Caleb Martin still limited by knee soreness, the Heat opened with a lineup of Adebayo, Kevin Love, Josh Richardson, Herro and Lowry.

The lineup hardly offered a tell of what might come next, with Butler and Martin out.

“I’m hopefully not looking for another starter at that position right now,” Spoelstra joked of Butler being out.

Spoelstra said the preference in the first two exhibitions was to feature as many of the 21 players on the preseason roster as possible.

“Hopefully in the next two games, I’ll be able to play everybody at least a little bit,” he said prior to Tuesday night’s game. “And if not two games, then I’ll work into that third game.”

Adebayo, Lowry and Love were held out of the second half, with Adebayo finishing with 13 points and six rebounds in 15:07.

2. Next men up: Haywood Highsmith, who has a chance to emerge as a rotation player, was first off the Heat bench, followed by Duncan Robinson. Bryant then made it eight deep, before Spoelstra also began to reinsert starters.

If it is those three initial reserves, plus Tuesday’s starting five, plus Butler and Martin, then it means the 2022 first-round pick Nikola Jovic and 2023 first-round pick Jaime Jaquez Jr. will have to displace someone to get into a 10-man rotation.

Eventually, Spoelstra went deeper into his bench in the second period, inserting Jaquez and Dru Smith, and then Jovic for 11 deep.

Bryant had his moments, with nine points and five rebounds in his initial 8:54 stint.

“He has a physical presence in the paint,” Spoelstra said. “But he has exceptional touch, as well. And he fits a need.”

Bryant, Highsmith, Robinson, Richardson and Herro started the second half, with Robinson closing 0 for 7 from the field, including 0 for 6 on 3-pointers.

Spoelstra eventually went deeper to the bench with Swider, R.J. Hampton and Orlando Robinson before the close of the third quarter, and then Jamal Cain.

The close featured a strong finish by Jaquez, who showed NBA quality footwork with his offense on the way to 13 points.

“Jaime made some really nice plays,” Spoelstra said.

Jovic sat late with knee pain, to be further evaluated Wednesday.

3. Herro ball: Herro arrived as advertised by Spoelstra, with eight points in his first 5:21.

Herro and Adebayo combined for 16 of the Heat’s first 18 points, doing it on only six shots, with both working their way to the line.

At issue for the Heat was how the early scoring came solely on two-point shots, the Heat opened 0 for 7 on 3-pointers, before a Highsmith conversion, later falling to 2 of 15 from beyond the arc.

The Heat were among the NBA’s worst in 3-point shooting during the 2022-23 regular season before moving to the top of the league in their playoff run to the NBA Finals.

Herro was forced out in the second period with a bloody nose, before returning to start the third quarter.  He finished 9 of 22 from the field, with five rebounds and three assists.

“He’s just explosive,” Spoelstra said. “He just does it in a fashion that he makes it look kind of easy — and it’s not easy.”

4. Hornets lite: The Hornets also were shorthanded, without Cody Martin and Miles Bridges, among others.

Bridges was suspended by the NBA for 30 games, including the first 10 games of this season, and also ineligible for exhibitions, in the wake of a domestic-violence incident in June 2022.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he views the East as competitive as it has been in years.

“I think this is as good as the East has been for a long, long time, in terms of the number of teams that will have a chance of being in the top six and then play to get into the top eight,” he said. “There’s still the elite teams of Denver, to me Milwaukee, Boston, obviously, in the East. But there’s a lot of really, really good teams that if they evolve the right way, they can get there, too.”

Of the Heat, Clifford said. “Every year, they figure out how they have to play, so that as the season goes on, they get to the next level.”

5. What’s next: Next up for the Heat is Friday night’s nationally televised exhibition in San Antonio against Victor Wembanyama and the Spurs. The Heat have a five-game preseason schedule before their Oct. 25 regular-season opener against the visiting Detroit Pistons.

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