NBA preseason has three critical principles during the preseason exhibition games.
1. Do not get hurt
2. Do not get hurt
3. Do not get hurt
So far the Miami Heat's preseason has been a resounding success by keeping players healthy while losing two out of three games. If the Heat would be undefeated they might have gotten too cocky, too early. The two loses grounded them by highlighting the areas that need work, while the win against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday gave a glimpse of what succeeds. 97 seems to be a magic number for them, because that's what they scored in the last two games.
The one area that could pay off in huge dividends in both health and wins during the season is developing a 3-point stroke. Teams generally will not contest a 3-point shot, because of a potential four-point play. Going into the paint is a risky business that can result in broken noses, twisted ankles, shattered kneecaps, etc. From an injury-avoidance perspective, chucking and making three's works for many teams..
Practicing correct shooting skills can be done outside of full-contact drills. Hassan Whiteside may not be ready for game situations yet, but he could be working on his free-throw shooting as he mends. That alone would add over five points per game during the season, which can be a difference maker in a close contest.
Talk about cleaning up defensive skills and turnovers comes up often, but improving field goal percentage by practicing shooting is hardly mentioned and it's so easy to do without getting injured between games. Free-throwing shooters have both feet parallel to the basket, while 3-point shots are taken at an angle: totally different mechanics. Because the hip, shoulder, elbow and arm are in a line to the basket, the ball naturally goes there. Unless the footwork and body are properly aligned, the shots just won't fall. That takes a lot of reps to get it to the stage where it's automatic. Shooting can be taught out of the public eye.
Preseason is a great time to hoist up a lot of three-point shots because of lower injury risk than earning points the paint, revealing game plans, reduced turnovers while attempting difficult passes, getting players comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations. In addition others will have to come out to defend shooters, opening up cutting lanes.
The Spurs scored only ten points in the fourth quarter, which can only partially be due to the second unit out on the floor. The other takeaway is the Heat bringing up the ball so quickly kept the Spurs from getting organized on their offensive end of the court. They always had to keep a couple of people back to guard against the speedy Gerald Green, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Greg Whittington. That group would wear down most NBA first-team players. Even the Spurs won't put Duncan, Parker, et al on the floor for over 36 minutes, so the Heat's speedsters will get a chance to play a quarter of the minutes during the season.
The Heat's starting five has gotten the lion's share of the media attention, but the second unit won the game against the Spurs. With only two weeks to go before the regular season, the Heat sit in a good position. They have had to face the realities of their weaknesses, yet the answers are emerging as the exhibition play winds down.
The oddity of dual back-to-back sets with today's game on the road against the Orlando Magic as well as this weekend also serves as a dose of reality, that they will have deal with later on. Since only thirteen players can dress for a game, the question remains - which players should be 14 and 15, if the Heat keep the full quota of 15?