Magic 85 - HEAT 118 Recap

Normally, the NBA preseason is a slow burn. After a lengthy training camp, rotation players have time to ease themselves back into the flow of the game, playing a few shifts one game, a few more the next and then taking a game off so as not to do too much, too soon.

And during those three-plus weeks of preseason, the head coach has plenty of time to get a look at the young guys on his roster, to slowly acclimate them to a playbook and a philosophy.

There are no such luxuries this preseason, with four of the Miami HEAT’s starters topping 22 minutes played in the HEAT’s 118-85 victory over the Orlando Magic, but it also seemed as though the young players didn’t need much time to adjust in the first place.

We’ll get to the starters in a moment, but first it warrants mentioning that the HEAT’s young players – not just Norris Cole, but guys trying to play their way onto the roster such as Terrel Harris, Derrick Byars and Jeremy Wise – were a major part of a 14-of-17 (82.4 percent) shooting effort in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Magic 36-24.

“We’ve been saying all through camp that this is the best young group that we’ve had and that I’ve seen in camp,” LeBron James said. “Those guys come to work every day and they don’t mess up too much. We go through drills and we don’t miss a beat. It’s good to see that they took everything we learned [at camp] and brought it down to the camp.”

All of this happened against Magic rotation players like Glen Davis, Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson. Yes, it was a preseason game, many of the points came off jumpers and in transition and the HEAT were missing perimeter players like Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Eddie House, but when you’re trying to make a roster, you have to give people something to talk about, and that group of HEAT youth most certainly did.

“The adrenaline and the energy was pumping,” Erik Spoelstra said. “Early on our starters set the tone, and the young kids came in there and took advantage of the opportunity.

As for those tone-setting starters, the tone they set had the HEAT playing defense almost as they were months into last season, closing out on Magic shooters and rotating from the weakside to hold Orlando to 87 points per 100 possessions, about 20 points below their 2010-11 season average.

But we know the HEAT are a good defensive team. No matter the personnel on the floor, Spoelstra expects his players to meet the team’s defensive standards. Where things looked very different from the preseason of last year was on the offensive side of the floor.

The offense went beyond good jump-shooting (7-of-17 from three) and efficiency in transition (9-of-11 on the break) – again, things we already know Miami does well. What was different was the crispness to sets and the off-ball movement that the HEAT simply didn’t have to their isolation and pick-and-roll heavy early months of the previous year.

At one point in the first quarter, Dwyane Wade had the ball down low in what looked like a typical post up. But after LeBron James sent the entry pass into Wade, he cut to the baseline and took a handoff from Wade, using Wade as a screen to free himself for a layup. Later, James again fed Wade along the baseline, and this time he cut on Wade’s high side, receiving the give-and-go bounce pass on his way into the lane.

Those were the only two such plays Sunday night, but that’s two more than you might have seen in an entire week of November games last year and they mark the improved chemistry and comfort that Spoelstra has been talking about throughout training camp.

Another major topic during camp has been the play of rookie point guard Norris Cole, who shot 2-of-6 but had eight assists in 20 minutes, looking quite comfortable running pick-and-rolls, threading the needle on multiple occasions for layups and dunks. For the first time, however, Cole had moments that stood in stark contrast to his usual steady, heady play at point. Twice, Cole got himself into trouble in transition, getting his teammates good looks on the perimeter but getting called for charges after the pass after barreling into a Magic player.

“I just have to learn when to go full gear and when to turn it down a gear,” Cole said.

It’s hardly something to be concerned about, but those plays were a reminder that however mature Cole seems on and off the court – he played four years at Cleveland State – he’s still a rookie, and it will take him some time to figure things out on this level. Spoelstra would rather Cole learn from his mistakes, from trying, anyways, rather than try to change the way his rookie plays.

“You have to take that with an aggressive player,” Spoelstra said. “I’m not going to overreact to the offensive fouls when he’s pushing coast to coast. He’ll be able to work that out and come to a jump stop. Some of things we’ll start to work on, but I don’t want to take away from his aggressiveness. He’s at his best when he’s playing at a pace and other guys have to run with him.”