Photo by Surya Fernandez, Hot Hot Hoops
It was a question that was bound to be asked to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra at his customary spot near the entrance to the practice court of the AmericanAirlines Arena while his team wrapped up their first practice without Chris Bosh.
Who starts in his absence?
Unsurprisingly, Spoelstra declined to answer the question directly, as if he would give Pacers coach Frank Vogel advance notice anyway. When a lineup change is needed, he hardly ever confirms it moments before a tipoff but this time there's a chance he hasn't even decided for sure who will start. That's only part of the solution of actually replacing Bosh but who will actually match his production during the game when the Heat's remaining big men aren't exactly known for creating their own shot?
At practice, there was one player who confirmed he wouldn't be starting at the 4 spot. LeBron James made that clear when asked but it's likely he'll be shuffled over at some point in the game there anyway and he said he was fine with that. But LeBron can't possibly be expected to do even more than he already has been doing during his spectacular season but he's willing to try anyway.
"We're moving on as if he's not going to return in this series. We'll see," said the MVP. "We understand it's going to be a challenge for us. We're missing a big part of our team, probably the biggest part of our team. Chris is a huge part of what we do and our success, so guys have to step up and that's including myself."
Ronny Turiaf is precisely one of the guys that has to step up and he was surprised to see himself surrounded by a large media crowd as he sat down after practice. The Heat's biggest cheerleader on the bench was called upon to see his first action of the postseason and he responded with instant energy, grabbing an offensive rebound within seconds, almost scoring on a tip-in during the next possession and throwing down a couple of easy dunks after being set up with pinpoint passes in the paint.
"It's not a matter of Chris going out, it's a matter of staying the course," said Turiaf in his thick accent. "We have a philosophy, we have our goals, we have our defensive identity and we know what we're trying to accomplish. So we try to wear a team down over a game, not over one or two or three quarters. I think that's what we're going to have to keep on doing."
The Pacers frontline is imposing in size but Dwyane Wade didn't sound too worried about any matchup problems even with Bosh likely out for the rest of the series.
"We're never going to bring anybody in that's as tall as them guys so we can't worry about that," he said. "But we can bring guys in that are quicker that can do other things. We like our depth. Chris is going to be out, we're going to miss him. Offensively, we got to have guys step up - myself and LeBron are the first two guys to do that - but we got other guys that can come in and help us defensively with their energy and with their effort on both ends of the floor. They can bring different things to the game so we're going to have to do that."
In order to protect home court advantage in this series, the Heat's bench will definitely have to step it up tonight or that supposedly easy road to the NBA Finals could become a bumpy one very quickly.