Erik Spoelstra tempted then tempered in the Miami Heat’s exhibition opener, putting postgame perspective on what for most of the night in his team’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves appeared to be a move toward his team’s next big thing.
After playing starting center Bam Adebayo with then-rookie Omer Yurtseven a total of 18 minutes together last season, the 15th-year Heat coach paired the two together for 20 minutes Tuesday night at FTX Arena in the first of his team’s five exhibitions.
For a team that was pummeled out of the playoffs by bigger opponents the past two seasons, the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021 and the Boston Celtics this year, it was as if a window was being opened on an impending power play.
Then Spoelstra tamped down the towering tease.
“They’re working on it,” Spoelstra said after the Heat were outscored by nine points in the time the two big men shared. “That’s why we’re spending a lot of minutes. They’re not going to play this many minutes together, if they play together. We’ll figure that part out.
“But that takes more time than some of the space or speed lineups. That’s why we’re dedicating time to that now in the preseason and in training camp.”
It was not an unfamiliar lineup, with the Heat utilizing it during several of the team’s scrimmages during training camp last week at the Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas. But during those sessions, both Adebayo and Yurtseven often flared to the corners. In Tuesday’s loss, spacing was an obvious issue, leading to a flurry of turnovers and overly compacted offensive sets.
“I mean, we got to play through it,” said Adebayo, one of three players assuredly locked into the regular-season starting lineup, along with forward Jimmy Butler and guard Kyle Lowry. “It’s growing pains at this point. We’ve been at this lineup for what, training camp and [Tuesday]? So it’s steps, it’s building blocks.
“And I feel like all of it boils down to communication. Once we start communicating and getting on the same flow and on the same page, that’s when that’s going to be a better look and better feel for both of us.”
There remains ample time, with four exhibitions remaining before the Oct. 19 season opener against the visiting Chicago Bulls, including a back-to-back set of road games on Thursday night against the Brooklyn Nets and Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The opportunity for big-big opened Tuesday with the decision to hold out Butler for rest. That had both Yurtseven and Caleb Martin, the leading candidate to open at power forward, both in the starting lineup.
For his part, Yurtseven embraced the minutes alongside Adebayo.
“I think it’s more so just getting the rhythm of it,” said Yurtseven, who held a rotation role last season only during the seven weeks Adebayo missed with a thumb injury. “It’s not going to be smooth at first.”
By playing Yurtseven and Adebayo in the same game, let alone the same lineup, it means toggling between base defenses. With Yurtseven the Heat play more of a drop defense, where Yurtseven protects the paint, similar to the approach when Hassan Whiteside was the team’s shot-blocking center. With Adebayo at center, the Heat switch on most pick-and-roll coverages.
“When O’s in the game and I’m in the game, it’s more so we’re sending the offense to O,” Adebayo explained. “I mean he’s 7-1 and then you have me helpside, and then you’ll have Jimmy and Kyle, and guys that make plays on the defensive end. When O is in the game, we want him to be 7-foot-1 and try to block everything.”
And when he is out, something completely different.
Yurtseven said there could be a compromise approach.
“I think zone defense is also very powerful,” he said. “I think it’s a great tool.”
Yet even in falling 121-111 Tuesday night, it was on the offensive end where it looked particularly wonky with the Adebayo-Yurtseven alignment.
“The lineups we haven’t used,” guard Tyler Herro said, “will be the ones we have to work on the most.”
So it could be more Adebayo-Yurtseven over these next two weeks, even with no guarantee of what will ensue over the following six months.
“That’s something we’re really going to have to continue to work on,” Spoelstra said.
With Adebayo accepting some of the big responsibilities.
“O hasn’t been in this system for six years,” Adebayo said of his own tenure. “So it’s on me. We’ve got the proper spacing, making sure he’s in his spot, so can have cohesive triggers and we can both benefit off that.”