Typically, an NBA team has a sense of identity and direction by the time it hits its 20th game. For the Miami Heat, that 20th game will come on Friday night.
But it’s been such an atypical season that coach Erik Spoelstra is not only reserving judgment, he’s practically dismissing any such considerations in favor of simply trying to survive this long stretch of injuries and absences.
“I don’t think we’ll get signs like that for a while,” he said when his team hosts the Washington Wizards on Friday night in a rematch of a 113-105 home win on Wednesday night, a victory that lifted the Heat to 8-11.
So far this season, the Heat have opened seven times with a projected starting lineup of Bam Adebayo, Caleb Martin, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herr and Kyle Lowry and not once since Nov. 1.
The project for this composition was actually put in mothballs for a month.
“I felt like I spent all of July, August and September with it,” Spoelstra said, “a full coaching vacation and all that. And we’re not even into that.
“I’m at a point now, we’ll get to it when we get to it. We have already spent three months preparing for it. It’s going to be a nice high-end challenge when we get to it. And when we’re fully healthy, our depth, what we’ve said, will be a major strength.”
Instead, there have already been eight lineups, including five in the last six games, with eight players starting at least one game.
“Now,” Spoelstra said, “it’s just a matter of who’s available, what we have to do to function and play closer to our identity that we see more often.”
While the Heat’s primary starting lineup has a 3-4 record, Lowry said he believes he can hit the ground running now, while the supporting cast has grown in the meantime.
“I think we realize who we are as a group when we come together,” he said. “I think guys missing time and guys who can fill in and step up, it gives everyone a sense of confidence to know what they can achieve and then you network it back together.
“I think at this time, with everyone getting healthy at the right time, we’re hitting some bad juju right now. But when things settle down, I think we’ll all come together and be very united.”
Unless Wednesday starts a four-game winning streak, the Heat will exit November with a losing record. But Spoelstra said there is a sense of better days ahead.
“Every team is going to go through this,” Spoelstra said, “and you have to go through the tough times together and hopefully come out better.” I think we come out of it better. I see more consistent basketball for longer stretches of our identity.”
Vincent is sick
Although Gabe Vincent returned Wednesday after missing the previous three games with a swollen left knee, Spoelstra said concerns remain at the backup point guard.
“Gabe didn’t have a lot of mobility. I had to take him out,” Spoelstra said, and Vincent was limited to 18:56 Wednesday even as Lowry was fouled. “I’ve been playing with a bunch of guys who are improvised ball-wielders who get us into the attack.”
Also on Wednesday was guard Tyler Herro, who had missed the previous eight games with a sprained right ankle. Herault finished with 17 points, 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
Herro said three-pointers were a priority, while Max Strauss (shoulder) and Duncan Robinson (ankle) were not.
“My goal was to get 10 threes, so I got my 10,” he said. “That was the goal, without Max and Duncan, somebody has to be able to shoot threes. So I just wanted to stretch the floor a little bit, get some threes and try to get into a rhythm.”
Herro was 4 of 7 on 3-pointers in the decisive fourth quarter, matching his career high for 3-pointers made in the fourth quarter.
“Tyler came alive,” Spoelstra said.