The Miami Heat will once again be without small forward Jimmy Butler, power forward James Johnson and shooting guard Dion Waiters when they travel to play the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.
And again, their focus will be on who is on hand instead of who isn’t.
On Wednesday in a season-opening victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, that was forward Justise Winslow, who had 27 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
“Justise is a great competitor. And (when) it’s time to make winning basketball plays, he’s always been able to do that,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “And (Wednesday), he was a little bit more assertive looking at the basket … attacking, getting into the paint and making the right reads when he got in there. And then defensively … in the second half, he was really good, very instrumental on the weakside.”
They’ll need his contributions as the Heat face the Bucks, who played in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
Butler, Miami’s biggest offseason acquisition, missed Wednesday’s season-opening win for the birth of his daughter. He not only will miss Saturday’s gaime against the Bucks, but Sunday’s game at Minnesota as well.
Johnson reported to training camp out of shape, and the Heat coaches still are not convinced his conditioning is up to standards.
And Waiters was suspended by the Heat for the Memphis game — he reportedly is unhappy with his reduced role on the team. The suspension is over, but Waiters was not on the trip to Milwaukee.
The Heat will, of course, need to defend Bucks star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who fouled out of Milwaukee’s opener on Thursday, a 117-111 win over the Houston Rockets.
He scored 30 points and added 13 rebounds and 11 assists to become the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1966 to score at least 30 points as part of a triple-double in a season opener.
Antetokounmpo, the reigning league MVP, played just 28 minutes and watched his teammates overcome a 16-point halftime deficit.
“It feels amazing, I’m not going to lie,” Antetokounmpo said of the win, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Being down 17 and able to come back and nobody was complaining, everybody was focused on the game. At no moment of the game we felt like we gave up. We played even harder, defended harder, executed harder and it’s game No. 1. This can only make you better.”
All-Star Khris Middleton said his team showed him a lot in the first game.
“Just a complete team,” Middleton said. “That’s our guy (Antetokounmpo), that’s our main guy, but to have the whole team step up — Brook (Lopez) stepped up, George (Hill) played big minutes for us coming through for us — we’re a deep team.”
Miami got a glimpse at its depth with the absence of three players, and coach Erik Spoelstra must have liked what he saw from point guard Kendrick Nunn, who was bypassed in the 2018 NBA Draft and spent last season on the Golden State Warriors’ development squad. Nunn made his NBA debut on Wednesday, scoring 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting.
“This is just the beginning,” Nunn said.
–Field Level Media