TORONTO — In the heat of a playoff race, the last thing tolerated is taking the long view.
Yet amid the Miami Heat’s glut of late-season injuries, Erik Spoelstra has been afforded that opportunity.
With Josh Richardson sidelined by a hip issue, Justise Winslow back from a thigh bruise, and with Goran Dragic again in rhythm following December knee surgery, the Heat opened Friday night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center with Dragic at point guard and Winslow at small forward.
It was the first time the two started in the same lineup since Winslow had inherited the majority of ballhandling responsibilities amid Dragic’s two-month absence.
“It’s not really an adjustment,” Winslow said. “I mean, this game is five players out there on the court. You’ve got to be able to play with the ball and off the ball.
“So, of course, I was able to flourish with the ball in my hands,
Heat at Raptors: Three things to watch
Here are three things to watch when the Heat play the Raptors at noon Sunday at Scotiabank Arena:
1. Who is in, who is out? For the Heat, Josh Richardson (hip) is out. For the Raptors, Patrick McCaw (thumb) is out.
2. What is the Raptors' motivation? Effectively locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Bucks, how much will the Raptors balance playoff preparedness vs. resting players in advance of next weekend's start of the playoffs? The last time the teams met, the Raptors gave Kawhi Leonard the day off and still pummeled the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena, 125-104.
3: Will Danny Green again be a Heat pest?
Acquired in the offseason from San Antonio, where he provided his share of Heat torment with the Raptors, Green shot 5 of 8 on
3-pointers in the teams' previous meeting, the Heat victimized in that March 10 loss by 21-of-40 Raptors accuracy from beyond the arc.
How to watch/listen: Fox Sports Sun, 790-AM, 106.3-FM, 98.3-FM (Spanish), 1140-AM (Spanish), 760-AM (Spanish) but I’m capable of playing without the ball, as well. I’m versatile. I understand the game. I know how to play the game the right way. So it’s not much of an adjustment for me.”
Dragic closed the loss to the Timberwolves with 15 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, Winslow with 13 points, four assists and seven rebounds.
Coach Erik Spoelstra thought the lineup had its moments.
“That was fine,” he said, before — Ira Winderman
turning his attention to Sunday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Center. “We got some good looks at the beginning of the third quarter.”
If nothing else, the pairing allows the Heat to learn about the chemistry of the combination over these remaining three games, with Dragic entering the final season of his contract, with the ability to opt out by June 30, and with Winslow about to begin the first year of a three-year extension.
“When I came here I was off the ball,” he said of this first three seasons after being selected No. 10 out of Duke in the 2015 NBA draft. “I’ve been off the ball 31⁄2 years. So I’ve learned how to play, how to cut, how to move without the ball.
“Of course, with the ball, I’m most comfortable. But I’m not going to have the ball the whole game and I understand that. So it’s not really and adjustment, playing off the ball for me. It’s just understanding the other guys out there and what my team needs for me.”
Paul Pierce, using his platform on ESPN’s NBA studio show, attempted to make a case Friday night for having the better career than Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who is retiring after this 16th and final NBA season.
The debate began with a benign question asking about which was better.
“That’s easy,” Pierce said. “I could say off the bat, me.”
Then when social media took over, with Wade reposting several tweets noting his merits.
Pierce then responded on ESPN’s postgame show, noting how, in his view, the emergence of social media tilted the debate in Wade’s favor.
“A lot of stuff that the people didn’t get a chance to see this before Twitter and Instagram,” he said. “So that’s why I say, go to YouTube, look at some of those games, ‘early 2000s, Paul Pierce.’ “
Pierce noted his accomplishments.
“People forget early 2000s, my matchups with the New Jersey Nets, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, to close out series, 45 in the closeout game, Indiana series, 28 in the second half,” he said.
It is not the first time Wade has dealt with pushback from an NBA studio show, with Charles Barkley having taken shots over the years on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”
“Just like Wade didn’t win without LeBron, Bosh, Shaq, you can’t do it by yourself,” Pierce said. “You need the other great players.”
Pierce’s closing comments came after a cardboard cutout of Wade was placed alongside in ESPN’s studio.
Wade said among the gifts received from Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on Friday night were Kevin Garnett and Prince jerseys.