ORLANDO — One of the unintended benefits of a team plowing through week after week of a 27-game (and counting) win streak is the collective strain it puts on not just a team’s superstars, but also it’s supporting cast.
And in the case of the Miami Heat, that would be, as All-Star forward Chris Bosh coined it, “the best supporting cast in the business.” Bosh was, of course, speaking about the cast surrounding reigning MVP LeBron James, a group headlined by Dwyane Wade and himself.
But those three superstars have the added benefit of leaning on what has developed into the best cast of veteran, high basketball IQ specailists in the business. From stalwarts like Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen and Shane Batter to Mike Miller and Chris “Birdman” Andersen to Norris Cole and occasionally James Jones or even Joel Anthony, the Heat found ways to tap into their resources at the right time throughout this streak.
It’s a delicate balance, knowing who to go to, and when. But it’s a luxury that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff have cultivated for the past three seasons. And for a team that will need every player to defend their title, this streak and the finish of this regular season could prove to be crucial in ensuring the reserves are ready for that grind.
“They are gaining more and more confidence,” Spoelstra said. “They really are. It doesn’t really matter which group we have out there. They take it to heart that they want to put together good minutes on the scoreboard. Those guys are just stepping up and giving us good minutes.”
Great minutes, actually, in spurts.
Cole scored a season-high 15 points and led seven scorers off the bench in Sunday’s win over Charlotte, the first of two straight games the Heat played without Wade, who sat out with a sore right knee. Cole (3-for-4), Allen (4-for-5) and Battier (2-for-5) lit it up from distance as the Heat used an 11-for-13 barrage from 3-point range to subdue the Bobcats.
Miller started in place of Wade Sunday and played 22 minutes in the win over the Bobcats. That’s the exact same number of minutes he played in the 10 games before that, and looked comfortable doing it. He started again Monday night against Orlando, making three of his six shots from the floor in 20 minutes against the Magic.
He attempted a total of four shots in those 10 games prior to his Bobcats start, but didn’t hesitate Sunday night, uncorking a couple of 3-pointers in the opening minutes of that game.
“My view was to just fill in,” Miller said. “But you can’t be shy. My motto is to let it fly. That helps our team, when our shooters are aggressive it opens up lanes for everybody else.”
Cole, Andersen and ex-Magic All-Star Rashard Lewis (11 points, courtesy of a 3-for-5 shooting effort from long-range) provided the boost the Heat needed to get win No. 27, outscoring the Magic reserves 42-15. The Heat are 26-1 this season when its reserves outscore the opposition’s.
“It’s just knowing your role and knowing what’s needed,” Battier said. “It’s the way we’ve worked all season long and right now it’s the perfect complement to what we’re doing offensively. Our main goal on offense is to create space to allow our best guys the room they need to operate. The only way to do that is to put shooters around them. So when we get the open looks, we have to make shots. It all has to work together.”
Making sure the bench was ready was of critical importance for Spoelstra, though he wouldn’t have forced the issue down the stretch of the regular season. Not with the type of veterans the Heat have.
“They’ve already had a body of work,” he said. “They’ve been called upon at times this year, and they are keeping themselves ready. The most important thing is all the work they’ve been doing behind the scenes. You could whither away on the sidelines by not playing if you didn’t have the right attitude. But our guys come in every single day. They do their conditioning and they also stay in it mentally. They do it every day.”
You win 27 straight games and everybody has to bring it — the superstars and the “best supporting cast in the business.”