It was a long and tedious campaign, and we’re just talking about the final preseason game in which the Miami Heat lost at home to the Philadelphia 76ers 113-110 on Friday night to wrap up the preseason with a 4-4 record.
The final outcome was insignificant of course, but coach Erik Spoelstra used the final preseason game as a dress rehearsal of sorts ahead of next Wednesday’s regular season opener on the road against the Orlando Magic. That didn’t necessarily mean heavy minutes for the starters and Dion Waiters was also held out in order to rest, but it nonetheless gave a sneak peek into the mindset of the coaching staff.
Luke Babbitt returned to the starting lineup after sitting out the last few games with a groin injury but Wayne Ellington (right quad contusion) and Rodney McGruder (jammed left middle finger) suffered minor injuries during the game and did not return to action.
It was a bit of a slugfest, with many, many fouls that stretched this game far longer than it needed to be. Miami as a team attempted a preseason-high 49 free throws but only converted 31 of them (“good” for 63.3%, yikes), and that’s with Willie Reed going 7-9.
Goran Dragic was the Heat’s best player on the court by far, attacking the paint relentlessly and getting his teammates involved early and often. He finished with 17 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in just 25 minutes and his 7-8 shooting from the free throw line was just one indication of his aggressiveness. His best play was a gorgeous crossover dribble near the baseline, where he drew three defenders on him and whipped the ball perfectly to Reed for the easy dunk. Hassan Whiteside looked pretty good at times in limited action, going 5-6 from the field for 15 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Justise Winslow and Derrick Williams struggled a bit from the field and James Johnson wasn’t nearly as effective as he’s shown previously in the preseason and was hampered by foul trouble.
In the competition for one of the final roster spots, Beno Udrih, Briante Weber and McGruder played comparable minutes and none of them did much to stand out from the rest of the pack — though Weber and particularly McGruder played well throughout the preseason.
Philadelphia certainly showed they will be much improved this season with the additions of rookie Dario Saric, who showed off some nifty moves, and a finally-healthy Joel Embiid, a revelation with his footwork and nimbleness packaged in such a tall frame. Once No. 1 pick Ben Simmons is ready to play, hopefully in the second half of the season, they might finally have something to show for all the years of tanking.
Miami may have finished 4-4 in the preseason but displayed much more depth than I feel most analysts have not taken fully into consideration when grading this team’s season outlook. Once Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts join the fray, the Heat will have two more playmakers to add to the rotation. Continued development of the younger players throughout the regular season, particularly Winslow, Richardson and Tyler Johnson, will also make the Heat that much better. Pat Riley will likely continue tinkering with the roster, so the “final” roster the team ends up with when they pare the roster down to 15 players in time for the season opener will surely look much different down the road.
Stick with Hot Hot Hoops for continued coverage leading up to the regular season, including a roundtable discussion on our observations from the past eight preseason games.