MIAMI — This came after a two-hour practice and film period Tuesday. Heat veteran Shane Battier, so ready, so antsy, stayed on the court after everyone left, sprinting from one side to the other and setting up for a three-point shot.
The other players had gone to rest for the remainder of their afternoon. Battier kept sweating, kept shooting. Swish. Miss. Swish. Off to the side, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra nodded in Battier’s direction.
“Look at that,” he said. “That’s what I’m talking about.”
For the previous few minutes, Spoelstra had been discussing this franchise’s touchstone words of “sacrifice” and “professionalism.” The Heat love these words and live by them as well as any team in sports.
But Spoelstra had followed them beyond the usual, one-dimensional Disney script or the one-for-all campfire song. The truth? Can you read it like an adult? Hear how the noble idea of sacrifice can rub a proud man raw and challenge a championship coach?
Spoelstra knows players who don’t play are “seething and angry” at any coach — “and I expect them to be,” he says.
When have they shown it?
“When haven’t they?” Spoelstra said.
Where has he seen it?
“If they’re mad enough they see me in a dark alley and do some harm to me, I’m fine with that,” he said. “As long as when they step on the court they know what we’re all about.”
What the Heat is doing is either the latest revolution in basketball or just the latest necessary, evolutionary step of their past three Heat seasons. It is far different than a previous era’s way of coaching, as evidenced by Pat Riley’s playoff idea of “playing eight and trusting five.”
Spoelstra doesn’t have five players to trust in every situation. He used nine players in the first quarter of Game 1 against Charlotte. Beyond LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he coaches the Heat in a situational manner that’s akin to a “baseball bullpen,” he says, and so who he uses will change “series to series, game to game, sometimes quarter to quarter.”
The Heat have so many players on their outer edges of careers that Spoelstra’s challenge is to mix and match what remaining skill a player might have against the opponent. James Jones’ and Ray Allen’s shooting. Rashard Lewis’ length. Toney Douglas’ defense. Udonis Haslem’s strength.