For starters, we now appear to have a lineup, as well as perhaps the depths Erik Spoelstra will go to with the Miami Heat rotation this season.
That made Wednesday night’s preseason finale at FTX Arena more than another mundane exhibition.
So while the New Orleans Pelicans held out some starters in what turned into a 120-103 loss to the Heat, Spoelstra, for the first time this preseason, put out what is now expected to be his opening five.
Tyler Herro as starting shooting guard proved to be a fit, with the winner of last season’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year finishing with 23 points. Caleb Martin as starting power forward mostly held up even against the first-half opposition of Zion Williamson, closing with nine points and six rebounds.
And for those back for more as starters, there were 25 points in 25 minutes from Bam Adebayo, nine assists from Kyle Lowry and 12 points and six assists from Jimmy Butler.
“I think it fits, me personally,” Adebayo said of Wednesday’s starters. “I feel like that was some great basketball we played as a first unit.
“It definitely felt comfortable for all of us.”
Butler said for starters, it looked good.
“I think we did alright, shared the ball, made some shots,” Butler said. “Probably could be a little better on the defensive end.”
For the Pelicans, Williamson did not return for the second half, due to ankle soreness, limited to 10:52.
Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday’s exhibition against the Pelicans:
1. For starters: Spoelstra stopped short of calling it a dress rehearsal, but certainly tipped his hand with his starting lineup, the first time those five appeared in the same exhibition.
Martin at power forward effectively takes the place of P.J. Tucker, who left in free agency for the Philadelphia 76ers. Herro now starts in the role Max Strus held at the end of last season.
Spoelstra said it wasn’t a case of showing his hand earlier than necessary.
“We have to continue to work on ourselves,” he said of offering such a sneak peek. “People are going to scout us, regardless.”
The Heat starters pushed to an initial 29-16 lead, later upping an eight-point halftime lead to 17 in the third quarter.
Of what Martin adds to the starting lineup, Spoelstra said, “It’s the speed, it’s the quickness.”
2. Three-throws: Herro converted his first four 3-pointers, which is a significant development if he is to play as a starting-unit spacer.
It would be an element otherwise missing, after either Duncan Robinson or Strus have served in that first-team role in recent seasons.
“Just being myself,” Herro said of his shooting. “Having Jimmy, Bam, Kyle with me allows me to play off the ball more.”
Herro also showed his playmaking skills with an early alley-oop feed for an Adebayo dunk.
“It’s been a group that has worked well together,” Herro said.
Said Adebayo, with a smile, “He’s welcomed to the club. When things go wrong, it’s his fault.”
3. Second five: Spoelstra said it wasn’t a true rotation preview because of his approach of using a full five-man second unit, a rarity in the regular season.
Those five were Dewayne Dedmon, Strus, Robinson, Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent.
That had Haywood Highsmith, Nikola Jovic and Jamal Cain among the available players who did not make the 10-player cutoff.
Oladipo struggled to 1-of-7 shooting with four fouls.
4: And then . . .: Jovic entered early in the second period to defend Williamson.
No, that did not go particularly well, with one of the thinnest players in the NBA attempting to guard one of the thickest.
But in a curious twist, Spoelstra then left Jovic on the court, in place of Martin, when Adebayo, Butler, Lowry and Herro returned for their second stints. The chemistry proved intriguing.
“He’s a hooper,” Adebayo said. “He figures it out as he goes. He looked like he was comfortable with us.”
Jovic, however, later checked out in favor of Martin after picking up his third foul in his initial 5:07.
“The game’s slowing down for him,” Butler said of Jovic.
5. Three out: The only players not available Wednesday were backup center Omer Yurtseven, 42-year-old team captain Udonis Haslem and two-way guard Marcus Garrett, who will be in a cast for four weeks with a wrist fracture.
Spoelstra declined to speculate on whether Yurtseven will be available for the regular-season opener.
“He’s day to day. That’s the way he’s being listed right now,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s cleared all the checkpoints in terms of being evaluated by the training staff, and he just needs a little more time.”
With Yurtseven unavailable, it left uncertainty over where he or Dedmon will play as backup center during the regular season.