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Dave Hyde: Coach Spoelstra has to mix-and-match his talent to opponent more this postseason

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 22, 2014 at 7:42 pm •  Published: April 22, 2014
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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.

Swish.

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.

Game 1’s tactical decision was shrewd: Jones was called on for his sharpshooting skills to loosen up Charlotte’s defense in good part because the Bobcats had no scorer to expose his defensive deficiencies.

Jones, who played in just 20 games this regular season, was up to the task. And perhaps a bit angry, too.

“I’m human, I want to play more,” he said.

And Battier, who started 56 games this year but didn’t appear in a playoff game for the second time in his career?

“A new experience, one I didn’t think I’d have at this point,” he says.

Has he talked to Spoelstra about playing more?

“I’ve done that in the past,” he said.

Understand, Battier and Jones are pros’ pros, the best in the business. Mike Miller was of a similar cut, and he privately fumed the previous two Heat seasons about playing so little — all forgotten when he starred in the playoffs.

“Look, I understand the situation,” Battier said. “It’s happened to every last one of us, so I’d be extemely selfish to stomp up and down and cry, ‘It’s not fair, I’ve been a good player.’ It’s happened to everyone not named LeBron, Wade or Bosh.

“So you do what everyone else does — you cheer like hell and keep ready for when your name is called again. And it probably will be.”

If the Heat had a couple more role players in their prime, this bullpen wouldn’t be necessary. But they don’t. So it is. Spoelstra’s challenge is finding matchups that matter. Battier? His job is to keep running the court, keep shooting tired 3-pointers, after everyone’s left practice.

“So you do what everyone else does — you cheer like hell and keep ready for when your name is called again. And it probably will be.”

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©2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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