Heat’s Erik Spoelstra stresses quality minutes in preseason

MIAMI — Sports talk shows and blogosphere are filled with opinions claiming the Miami Heat simply have to show up to win 50 games during the regular season.

Such a belief is based on the two-time defending champs’ Big Three-led talent.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra insisted its takes more than that.

“You still have to prepare your team and try to push forward,” Spoelstra said before Monday night’s preseason-opening victory against Atlanta.

To do that, Spoelstra and his staff has preached quality, not quantity, of minutes during the preseason. The coach’s buzz word has been intensity.

“I want them to play their minutes hard,” said Spoelstra, beginning his sixth season as Heat coach. “Work those habits, don’t save it. You won’t be out there long, so get after it. That’s probably the biggest habit we want to instill throughout the month of October.”

Miami returns a veteran core led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, with most of the other key players returning, too. Several newcomers — center Greg Oden, forward Michael Beasley and guard Roger Mason Jr. — hope to contribute. (Although it might be a while before Oden plays. The Heat are taking it slow with the 7-foot center, who hasn’t played since December 2009 due to chronic knee problems.)

Then there are a few players looking to impress enough to grab a spot at the end of the bench or with Sioux Falls of the NBA Developmental League.

Despite the Heat’s mostly veteran group, Spoelstra said training camp and the early preseason offered plenty of competition.
“Ask the guys. We haven’t talked about roles or anything of that nature,” Spoelstra said. “The guys are fighting as if they’re fighting for their opportunities and their role, while at the same time understanding that there’s going to be some sacrifice. But guys aren’t conceding or giving up anything right now, and that’s how we want it.”

The players seem to have no problem with their coach’s approach.

“We wouldn’t want it any other way,” Wade said. “We’re working hard. A lot of teams this time of year are working hard. Now we’re getting to the point where not only are we working hard, now we gotta work smart at the same time.”

Established stars such as Wade, James, Bosh and Ray Allen primarily will use the preseason to get in game shape and avoid injury. Guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, forwards Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Shane Battier want to show they still belong in the rotation.

Players such as Rashard Lewis, James Jones and Beasley hope to grab minutes, perhaps those vacated by departed sharpshooter Mike Miller.

Beasley, who didn’t play in the opener due to a calf injury, was the Heat’s second overall selection in ’08. He was traded to Minnesota two years later.

Asked if he had a different message to Beasley the second time around, Spoelstra said: “He just has to fit in. That’s all the expectations I have for him right now. Every single day coming to work to improve. That’s what he’s doing. So I haven’t given any other expectations or than that. That’s what he’s doing.”

Rookies such as guards Eric Griffin, Larry Drew and Charlie Westbrook, and second-year forward Jarvis Varnado likely will see little time for as long as they remain with Miami.

“We want them to play with desperation, energy and effort, multiple efforts,” Spoelstra said. “There has to be a poise offensively, so they’re not out of control. But defensively, if they’re making those type of efforts because they’re desperate to try and impress, good.”

Charlie McCarthy can be reached at mac1763@bellsouth.net or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas