Winderman’s view: Celtics show Heat the mountain to climb in East
MIAMI – Observations and other notes of interest from Thursday night’s 143-110 loss to the Boston Celtics:
– The gap between the Heat and the top of the East?
– It was never more apparent than Thursday night.
– As if the Celtics are in another league.
– Yes, the playoffs are a different animal.
– But these Celtics are not last season’s Celtics.
– Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday have changed that calculus.
– And Derrick White is even better this time around.
– While the Heat certainly looked better than recent games, they didn’t look Celtics good.
– Sure, coaching yet could matter in a playoff series.
– But this would not be a way the Heat should want to start a playoff run.
– Another reason to stay out of the playoff bracket that could lead to a No. 1-No. 8 opening-round series.
– Beating the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo ailing last season was one thing for the Heat in the 2023 first round.
– This is a completely different mountain.
– Better defensively.
– After a test run as a reserve in Wednesday night’s Heat debut, Terry Rozier moved into the starting lineup in his second game.
– That left the Heat with their 25th starting lineup in their 45th game.
– Rounding out the opening unit were Bam Adebayo, Haywood Highsmith, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro.
– Highsmith appears to be the choice as the power forward with that group, having moved back into the starting lineup Wednesday night after Nikola Jovic had started the previous 10 games.
– “Defensively,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Highsmith, “he fits because he can guard so many different positions. You don’t always want to just always switch one through five, but he can definitely switch one through four, for sure. And he’s proven that he can take on a lot of the different, difficult challenges in this league. He embraces that role.”
– Spoelstra added of Highsmith, “And then offensively, he’s just really improved his spacing and his ability to shoot and also cut, get behind the defense. He’s found a pretty good niche in that role, or coming off the bench. It just depends where we are with our full roster and health and all of that. He’s really improved over the last year and half.”
– That move and others have shuffled Jovic out of the mix.
– “As we start to get guys back, this is not at all any kind of indictment, as I say, about Niko,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not. We’re really encouraged by the progress that he’s made.”
– After taking ill during Wednesday night’s loss to the Grizzlies, power forward Kevin Love was out Thursday.
– The absence comes at a time Love has been particularly impactful.
– “It’s his skill set, for sure, that kind of opens up the floor for us,” Spoelstra said of Love. “And he has a great synergy with so many of our guys. But just as importantly, the intangibles and leadership, his voice, all of those things. Hopefully he will feel better in the next day or so, but we’ll just have to see.”
– Caleb Martin played as the Heat’s first reserve, after early foul trouble for Highsmith.
– Duncan Robinson and Thomas Bryant followed together in the Heat’s second substitution.
– That also had Bryant playing ahead of Jovic.
– “The decision with Thomas,” Spoelstra said, “a lot of that is game to game and matchup based.”
– Bryant was active and efficient in his first-half minutes.
– Josh Richardson, who started Wednesday night, entered late in the first period to make it nine deep for the Heat.
– His team having entered on a four-game losing streak, Spoelstra said Thursday was about more than the rivalry with the Celtics.
– “Where we are right now, it transcends this feeling about the Celtics,” he said. “We all know how we feel about them. And I’m sure they feel a similar way about us. That’s good.”
– Of the emphasis going in, Spoelstra said, “We’re trying to take care of some things that we need to address in terms of how we want to play and get to a more consistent identity, and there’s no better way to do that than against the team with the best record in the league.”
– Martin’s first steal was the 200th of his career.