Sun Sentinel Columnist
11:31 PM EST, December 29, 2012
Glen Rice got out early; Steve Smith avoided the experience entirely.
When the two former Miami Heat stars recently appeared at AmericanAirlines Arena as part of the team's 25th Anniversary commemoration, the stories turned to Pat Riley's rigorous practices and the Heat's renowned penchant for working players as hard as any franchise.
Rice was with the Heat during Riley's first training camp, before being dealt to the Charlotte Hornets for Alonzo Mourning.
"Everything they said it was," Rice said.
"Like when Pop had us doing crab crawls outside, in the hot, on tennis courts?" replied Smith, whose Heat tenures came under Kevin Loughery and Stan Van Gundy, but who also won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich.
"Like that," Rice said.
Yet fast-forward to the current operation still being overseen by Riley but now being run by Erik Spoelstra. During a recent five-day period the Heat had three days off, even as Spoelstra carefully monitors the minutes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Then contrast that to the approach of Tom Thibodeau, whose Chicago Bulls play Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. For most of the season, Chicago's Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have been at the top of the league's leaders in minutes played, leading some to question the regular-season priorities.
Granted, the Bulls remain without their leader, with Derrick Rose still rehabilitating from last season's gruesome playoff knee injury, and granted that Bulls ownership preferred to operate on the cheap with a revamped, lower-cost bench.
But when is too much simply too much during the regular season?
For Spoelstra, it has been a matter of changing with the times, which had the team with a recent schedule of day off, game, day off, game, day off.
"This group is different than some of the groups we've had before. We've been together long enough that when you have a break in between games, it's a better opportunity to do both," Spoelstra said of finding time for practice as well as rest.
While Spoelstra hasn't gone Thibodeau-like lengths with his players, three times in the past two weeks, James has played all but six minutes in games, followed by Friday's 44 minutes in Detroit on the first night of a back-to-back. While that has James ranked in the league's top 15 in minutes, it is well below James' No. 6 NBA rank in minutes per game his first two seasons with the Heat.
"We've been able to keep his minutes pretty reasonable," Spoelstra said, with Friday somewhat of an exception.
Spoelstra said mostly "it's a feel," but that there also is a plan.
"I have it penciled in how much each guy I'd like to get minutes for," he said. "But if I need to extend it two or three, I'm certainly not losing any thought over that, that doesn't mean anything. If you do that for four or five consecutive months, then you might see a residual of that, but not game to game, certainly."
More than minutes, Spoelstra said it's days away from the gym.
"It's how many consecutive days of work have you had in a row?" he said. "And we always monitor that. This season, it feels like we've had so much more time to accomplish everything, to be able to practice. It's not as if we're not preparing or not working or not trying to get better. We've had time."
Compared to last season, when the lockout-compacted schedule left little time for practice or to even cancel practice, the balance has been far easier.
But an 82-game schedule also makes it a marathon, with an expected two months of playoffs to follow, which is why you have to get into the 50s when it comes to where Wade and Bosh stand among the league's players in average minutes per game.
"The guys understand we'll always be a work organization, we'll never shy away from that," Spoelstra said. "But we're also aware of how much time we've been together, and recovery and rest is a factor, as well."
IN THE LANE
NEAR MISSES: It certainly has been an eventful week for the almost-Heat. Point guard Garrett Temple, the Heat's final cut during training camp, was added by the Washington Wizards at the cost of a spot to former Heat guard Shaun Livingston, who since has signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then there is former Heat second-round pick Jarvis Varnado, who was cut at the end of camp, like Temple went to the NBA Development League, and then was added by the Boston Celtics. Varnado was injury plagued in his bids to win a spot with the Heat after being taken in the second round in 2010 out of Mississippi State. Finally, guard Patrick Beverley, whose rights were acquired by the Heat during the 2009 NBA Draft, is poised to join the Houston Rockets after thriving in Europe as a defensive stopper. The Heat, who at one point guaranteed Beverley two seasons of salary before cutting him, had interest in bringing Beverley back over the years, but his lucrative European deals made such a move less appealing without a contract guarantee.
FICKLE FATE: To show how fickle NBA life can be, both Livingston and former Heat center Earl Barron were starting for the Wizards before being cut by Washington to make room for Temple and point guard Shelvin Mack. Barron, in fact, had a 14-rebound game just prior to being released. Just prior to being cut, Barron vowed of the lowly Wizards, "We'll turn it around," with Livingston saying, "It's on us." So much for those plans. The revolving door around the NBA figures to start spinning at an even more furious pace when 10-day contracts can be signed starting Jan. 7 and when all contracts become guaranteed for the season on Jan. 10.
LIMITED FAITH: Of all the comments made about the New York Knicks' unexpected ascension up the standings, it is tempered optimism from Carmelo Anthony that deserves the most inspection. Asked what would constitute a successful season for the Knicks, Anthony told ESPN, "Winning the division, getting out of the first round, getting to the Eastern Conference finals. I don't see anything less than that." Not getting to the NBA Finals, mind you. Just, apparently, making it as far as a showdown series with the Heat. That, alone, should temper some of the significance of the Knicks' two early-season routs of the pre-defense Heat.
LIMITED PLAN: Even before he was sacked as Brooklyn Nets coach, Avery Johnson was asking for time. Of the Nets' uneven start to the season, Johnson stressed to reporters on the eve of his dismissal that the Heat didn't find their ultimate identity until deep into last season's championship run. "Did Miami think they were going to start Shane Battier at power forward when they came into last season? No, they kind of fell into it," Johnson said.
SIMILAR VIEW: Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey also used a Heat analogy when addressing Johnson's Nets dismissal. "You put a team together, it's a lot like Miami," Casey told the Toronto Star. "I mean Miami struggled the first year and everyone was calling for [Erik] Spoelstra's head. They stuck with him and won a title. It takes time, I don't care who you are. When you put a new team together full of superstars, it takes time." Of course, the greater issue with the Nets might have been whether Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson should be classified as superstars.
EXIT PLAN: Perhaps Ronny Turiaf wasn't so misguided, after all, in leaving the defending champion Heat in free agency for the Los Angeles Clippers. "We're having a blast," Turiaf told the Los Angeles Times, "and that's what life should be all about: Take care of yourself, have fun, play for each other and just hope for the rest. We're just trying to ride the wave."
2. Times the Heat have shot 19 of 19 from the foul line or better, with the 19 of 19 in Tuesday's victory over the Thunder second among Heat perfect games to the 30 of 30 from the line in a March 24, 1993 loss to the Celtics.
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