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Winderman’s view: Even with loss, Heat showing they have three at the four

MIAMI — Observations and other notes of interest from Wednesday night’s 128-120 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder:

– Well, this is getting interesting.

– So when the Heat roster is whole (assuming such a time exists), who starts at power forward?

– Nikola Jovic certainly has been tantalizing in these emergency starts, even earning closing-time minutes in this one.

– Haywood Highsmith offered reminders Wednesday night why he was shifted into the starting role earlier this season, closing with a career scoring high.

– And Caleb Martin said he is getting closer to a return from his ankle sprain, having shown all that needs to be shown during last season’s playoffs.

– For Highsmith, there is the versatility to play elsewhere in the rotation, as shown by his defensive turn Wednesday night at shooting guard against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

– Something that Martin also can do.

– While Jovic is somewhat power forward or bust.

– All of which could make it interesting at the Feb. 8 NBA trading deadline.

– With Martin and Haywood both impending free agents this summer.

– So trade while still able to get something in return?

– Or value just how much Highsmith and Martin could mean defensively this season?

– It could well come down to a waiting game with Jovic.

– With the Heat at least now knowing a potential direction to turn at the position next season.

– When Jovic will be all of 21.

– With Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Martin out, the Heat moved to a 20th different starting lineup in their 37th game.

– This time it was Bam Adebayo, Jovic, Highsmith, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyler Herro.

– Butler remained out with his toe injury, with Lowry sitting with a hand sprain and Martin with his ankle sprain.

– The Thunder opened with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren.

– Josh Richardson played as the Heat’s first reserve. He had been on the injury report earlier in the day with neck spasms.

– Kevin Love also entered in the Heat’s first substitution.

– Duncan Robinson made it eight deep for the Heat.

– And that basically was it.

– As Jamal Cain, RJ Hampton, Orlando Robinson and Thomas Bryant watched.

– The Heat entered having won their previous six games against the Thunder, the franchise’s longest winning streak against Oklahoma City.

– The matchup featured two of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year, the Heat’s Jaquez and the Thunder’s Holmgren.

– “I know there’s going to be a narrative of top rookies in our class,” Jaquez said ahead of the matchup. “He’s got great size. He can space the floor. He can pass. On defense he’s a great presence.”

– Asked pregame about the Heat, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said, “They just are the essence of competition. They don’t quit. They’re grimy. They’re willing to do hard things. They’ve done that for years. It seems like every player that wears their uniform embodies that. And so it’s a test in terms of reaching that bar.”

– He added, “They’ve really done an incredible job of building a first-class organization in the way that they operate, and certainly the way they’ve been able to maximize their team. We’ve talked a lot about wanting to be a team where the whole is better than the sum of the parts. And they’re done that consistently for a long, long period of time, through a lot of different circumstances.”

–  Daigneault also said that playing the Heat can open a window to the opposition.

– “They’re a team that has schemed very well against us in the past,” he said. “They’re a team you can tell when we play them, they’ve got a play in that’s specific to our team. And where we are, that’s helpful to us, to kind of learn how an opponent that we respect is viewing our team, is viewing ways to attack us and ways to try to neutralize certain things that we do.”

– Butler said amid his absences he remains confident in the team’s depth.

– “I’ve always seen this,” he said. “So this is nothing new to me. It may be new to individuals that aren’t in here every day, that’s not seen these guys work on their game, gain confidence through that.”

– Richardson said the tight race in the middle of the East playoff pack is fascinating but hardly unprecedented.

– “Yeah, it gets like that sometimes,” he said. “I’ve been in it a couple of times. My rookie year, it came down to it, our last game, whether it was going to be sixth or third. So it’s the league. It’s the NBA. Every team is talented. Especially right now there’s a lot of teams that have a lot of pieces, a lot of guys that can really hurt you. So we just got to approach every game like it’s our last.”

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