Erik Spoelstra on the Heat’s preseason lineup experiments, strength of the Eastern Conference

Erik Spoelstra said he believes everyone is making the Brooklyn, Memphis road trip this week, where the Heat will play its second and third preseason games against the Nets and Grizzlies. He will have a better idea as to who’ll play and when after shootaround Thursday.

“We’ll play as many guys that are available the first night,” Spoelstra said. “...And then I’ll adjust accordingly. If guys played big minutes one night, I’m definitely not going to play them big minutes, if at all, the next night.”

Jimmy Butler, Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent missed Tuesday’s game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves for rest purposes. Oladipo and Vincent also didn’t play in the intrasquad Red, White and Pink game Monday night, and Butler only saw action in the first quarter of the scrimmage. Spoelstra said none of these absences had to do with injury.

Oladipo, who has had two knee surgeries in the past three years, said the decision to sit out earlier this week came as “an accumulation” of his and the staff’s input.

“I’ve been going really hard all summer and in training camp, so I’m just listening to my body and making sure I’m fresh when everything counts,” he said after practice Wednesday.

Does the Heat need a dress rehearsal?

While the Heat’s roster remains largely the same as it was at the end of last season, role changes seem imminent with the departure of power forward P.J. Tucker.

On using the preseason to prepare for such role changes, Oladipo said “It just gives us a chance to play with lineups, play with minutes, see what works for us and figure out the best plan of action going into the season.”

The absences of Butler, Oladipo and Vincent Tuesday made it clear the game against Minnesota wasn’t a dress rehearsal for the Heat’s 2022-2023 campaign. But Spoelstra said just because fans haven’t been privy to a dress rehearsal doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.

“We had a pretty intense training camp, we’re working through different rotations and different lineups and different roles for guys,” he said. “So that’ll be ongoing the rest of preseason. We view this, all of this, as training camp until we get to that Chicago game.”

Could this year be one where the Heat gravitates toward a flex starting lineup?“Maybe,” Spoelstra said. “I’m open to whatever right now. I think it’s still too early to figure that out. …I certainly am not going to just only think conventionally about what’s best for the team. You know, we’ll figure out what we think is best for Game 1 and adjust as necessary.”

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts from the sidelines during an NBA preseason basketball game at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday, October 4, 2022.
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts from the sidelines during an NBA preseason basketball game at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday, October 4, 2022.

Spoelstra weighs in on the East’s annual preseason survey of league general managers picked Miami to finish fifth in the East behind Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

Does this look like one of the stronger Eastern Conferences Spoelstra has coached in?

“Yeah,” he said. “...And I think the play-in has really helped that. I think if you have a striking chance to get in the playoffs, teams are going for it now. It’s exciting. You feel like you have an opportunity. I think that ‘16-17 team that we had, man we all wish the play-in was then. And there’s less teams at the bottom fighting for the lottery. I think that’s stepped everybody’s game up. Man, the East certainly is very good at the top of the conference, but you have great depth, too. In the back end of the conference and figuring out who’s going to be in the playoffs, I think it’s going to be a ferocious competition.”