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ASK IRA: Is Heat's only hope against Embiid to unleash Whiteside?

Miami Heat beat writer Ira Winderman says Hassan Whiteside has to play better for the Heat to have any chance of beating the Philadelphia 76ers in their first-round NBA Playoff series.

April 20, 2018

Q: There was no game plan to attack Joel Embiid. How do you allow him to play an entire game and not force him to defend the post once? Not once. Embiid was teeing off on Hassan Whiteside while Hassan was reduced to setting screens.  It seems to me that we would rather lose small than to compete playing big. There is no way to spin this one, Ira. -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

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A: And that's the thing, Embiid closed Game 3 with four fouls just like Whiteside. But the Heat never pushed to get a fifth or sixth foul on Embiid, even while he remained in the game while in foul trouble. So that means one of two things: 1. The Heat do not believe Whiteside, in this current state (whatever the state may be) has the ability to create foul trouble for Embiid. 2. Or the Heat believe Whiteside is a liability on the court compared to what Kelly Olynyk or  Bam Adebayo had to offer. From the start, I never could envision a path to victory in this series without a dominant contribution from Hassan. Now time is running out, which also might be the case with Hassan's confidence.

Q: Brett Brown inserted Justin Anderson into the game to send a message about physicality. In the mental game within the basketball game, the message from the Sixers: we aren't backing down after Game 2. Wasn't that a great opportunity for Erik Spoelstra to insert Udonis Haslem into the game, if only for a few minutes to send a subtle message back to the Sixers? -- Stuart.

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A: This entire tough-guy thing has become way overstated. This isn't the late '90s and the NBA won't allow the game to regress to that point. I was shocked that Anderson-Wade didn't result in something more than technical fouls and would assume that the league will make sure Game 4 is not nearly as edgy as Game 3. No, this comes down to substance and execution, which the 76ers put to use when needed most in Thursday's fourth quarter. This isn't, with all due respect, about Haslem. It's about the Heat's rotation players being better -- a lot better -- than they were in Game 3.

Q: The Heat have to work so much harder to beat the 76ers than the 76ers have to to beat the Heat. It seemed like Miami played so well but then you look at the score and Philadelphia is still up. The difference in this series is the firepower that the Heat don't have. -- Mialles, Boston.

A: Correct. And seemingly the entire premise of this Heat roster and season is that our less-talented roster will outwork your roster. And while that can work against lesser teams during the regular season, it is an entirely different story in a best-of-seven series against a No. 3 seed in the playoffs. There is not a general manager in the league who wouldn't take the 76ers' roster over the Heat's (a fact Heat management would never publicly acknowledge but assuredly accepts).

April 19, 2018

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Q: I'm amazed by Dwyane Wade's performance and the win against Philly in Game 2, but should we still be concerned with how Philly stormed back late? During that late run, Philly mobbed us on the boards and had free runs to the basket. While I do think there are times when Kelly Olynyk has given us a boost, there are other times when his deficiencies on defense are out weighing his gains. -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

A: That has been an ongoing issue for the Heat, when Hassan Whiteside is out and Kelly Olynyk is in, that opposing teams immediately move into attack mode. It is among the reasons, I believe, why Bam Adebayo has become more of a factor in this series than anticipated. The problem for the Heat is that they feature a lineup, beyond Whiteside, that is otherwise undersized, when counting James Johnson at power forward, Josh Richardson at small forward and Tyler Johnson at shooting guard. This is a roster that desperately needs a shot blocker to clean up things in the middle. The problem is that when Whiteside is in the game but defending Dario Saric on the perimeter, you still don't have him in the middle. And when a team is storming back by shooting 3-pointers, a big man can only do so much. This is where the new timeout rules come into play, essentially having to make offense-or-defense decisions.

Q: Hey, Ira, I have a question that I can't seem to answer: Are the Heat an overachieving team or an underachieving team? -- Ernest.

A: Yes. They have overachieved if you believe that Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic are average players at their positions, and if you believe that James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson are mid-tier supporting players. They have underachieved if you believe that Whiteside is a leading man, Dragic an All-Star and Winslow, Richardson and Bam Adebayo significant draft acquisitions. It would be interesting to know how Pat Riley and Mickey Arison truly feel about this roster. Because if they believe it is contention worthy, then they probably would side on the side of having underachieved -- to this stage.

Q: Time and again, Justise Winslow gets great position or a great drive to the basket -- yet somehow he just can't put the ball in the basket. When will this end? -- Derek, Montreal.

A: Sometimes player lack certain skills, especially on the next level. The force that Justise displayed at Duke hasn't been present to the same degree in the NBA. He simply might not be up to such play on this level. Whether it's a pull-up or a teardrop, it might be time to consider an alternate approach.

April 18, 2018

Q: Everyone is always down on Hassan Whiteside, and rightfully so when he doesn't rise to the occasion. He played great against the Raptors, because they play big mostly and he didn't have to run through picks chasing shooters. That's hard for him to do against the Sixers. Be blind if you want. If Joel Embiid plays Thursday night, all that Hassan talk will change. There is no way Kelly Olynyk or Bam Adebayo can handle him in the post. Hassan had a great game the final regular-season game and he was focused until he had to sit out due to injury. Embiid playing is exactly what we need. Embiid likes to shoot threes and he fouls a lot against Hassan. Stay tuned. -- Sippy.

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A: It is an odd proposition, basically saying that by adding an All-Star to the equation it will make the series easier for Hassan Whiteside. And maybe it will. But will it make it easier for the Heat? How? How can an opponent strengthening their lineup weaken them? It's not as if Ersan Ilyasova won't play. He simply will go back to a highly effective second unit. This series is not about getting Hassan out of his funk. It is about the Heat finding a way through to the second round. Joel Embiid, if 100 percent, could wind up as nothing short of a roadblock. Now, if he isn't 100 percent and still insists on playing, that is another story.

Q: Do you plug Dwyane Wade him in the starting five if you're Erik Spoelstra? -- Jo.

A: That is the last thing I would want to do, is increase Dwyane minutes and burn some of them during the early stages. Both teams have built big early leads in this series only to see them disappear. Sitting at courtside, you could see the fatigue set in at times for Dwyane. No, Wade as finisher is all that matters. Heck, I'd give him the OK to show up to the arena at halftime.

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Q: If the Heat defend home court we can beat Philly. After that, regardless of the result of the Bucks/Celtics series I would favor the Heat in the second round (considering our 5-1 record against those teams this season). With that said, do you agree that a run to the conference finals is in the cards? -- Ethan, New York.

A: Um, you're talking to a guy who's not sure if the Heat are going to win Thursday. And even if that happens, not sure it doesn't then go back to Philadelphia at 2-2. Let's take this one game at a time.

April 17, 2018

Q: What adjustments. Who knew? Erik Spoelstra for Coach of the Year? -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: Which is all any playoff series is about, particularly now, with a two-day break before Game 3 on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. There are so many ways to look at Monday. Yes, the Heat and Spoelstra adjusted. Yes, from the players who mattered, there was a heightened intensity. Yes, the Heat did better contesting the 76ers' 3-pointers. But you can't expect this Dwyane Wade every night at this stage. And the 76ers are going to get back to making 3-pointers, because that is what they do and who they are. Plus, there is the Joel Embiid factor, which also will change the equation. The 76ers have more talent in this series. But the Heat have a coach who, mostly, gets every last ounce out of his roster. And, as it is, it's not as if the Heat have gotten anything out of Hassan Whiteside to this stage. So expect more twists and turns and at least six games, and possibly more.

Q: Let's assume for a minute the Heat decide this offseason to move on without Hassan Whiteside. Is there a market for him and what could the Heat realistically expect in return? -- Tommy, Greenville, Fla.

A: There always is a market, because there always are teams with issues of their own. But do you trade Hassan for Luol Deng or Joakim Noah? Again, even with this uneven playoff start, I go back to what a scout told me at midseason, that the maximum trade return for Whiteside would be a rotation player and a first-round (non-lottery) draft pick. So you're basically talking, with such an example (but not of this specific example that I'll spitball), of something along the lines of a Kelly Oubre and Markieff Morris. (Again, that is an example of the type of players, not in any way such specific players). The problem is the Heat already have a roster loaded with journeymen types. So you essentially would be trading Hassan for a bunch of James Johnsons and Dion Waiters.

Q: If the Heat are to contend in the future, it likely won't be with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, both of whom have likely hit their respective ceilings as players. It will be with Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, or whatever young players are allowed to step up, and who take the opportunity to step up, in coming seasons. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: Understood, but you still need players to complement and support, and with their unique games, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk can do that, particularly with their playmaking. So the question becomes whether Dion Waiters returns as a leading man, or as someone who gets in the way of the growth of, say, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. Now, when does that turn come? And if it comes before the end of the contracts of Whiteside and Dragic, then this summer might be the time for such a move, particularly with the Heat back in the draft game in 2019 and '20.

April 16, 2018

Q: Pat Riley, when he coached the Lakers, once had Magic Johnson play center when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was injured. That strategy worked. Might we see the Heat think out of the box and have Bam Adebayo, with his long wingspan and his quick foot speed, guard Ben Simmons, if anything, to disrupt his rhythm and easy views on the court? -- Stuart.

A: I previously had been asked about Adebayo defending Simmons and was intrigued, but the problem was it would leave the Heat with yet another non-shooter on the court, in a series where the true danger is trading twos for threes. But there also is a greater point here and that is how much do you depart from what got you to this point? If the Heat believe that they have a true, contending rotation, then you also have to carry the belief that it merely comes down to doing it better. If, however, you feel that even at your best that you are not good enough, then you start pulling out all the stops. So, are the Heat in such a place, and such a predicament, after a single playoff game?

Q: Joel Embiid would slow down the 76ers' pace, so him being out is a bigger disadvantage for the Heat. -- Cyrus.

A: Rubbish. When an All-Star is out it becomes a situation where you have to take advantage. And do not overstate the change in style. When Embiid returns the 76ers still are going to load up on 3-pointers, including Embiid. He already has proven to be a quick study in his brief NBA tenure. No, this is when you have to take advantage. And Embiid is coming back, because the 76ers need him back, because Philadelphia has greater goals than the first round and appreciate how important he remains to those hopes. But it does make sense to take two more days off, since Game 3 is not until Thursday.

Q: Sorry but how much better would the Heat be if they had gotten Marco Belinelli instead of Dwyane Wade? -- Bev.

A: Or instead of Luke Babbitt? But it all was a matter of timing, with Wade offered up at the trading deadline and then Belinelli moving on from Atlanta at the ensuing buyout deadline. The thing is, there have been several teams that have buried Marco, as well, in recent seasons, so it all comes down to fit. And there is no guarantee he would have been the same fit with the Heat.

April 15, 2018

Q: Coaching matters more with some players than others. Erik Spoelstra spent an entire season breaking Hassan Whiteside down, instead of coaching him up, benching him consistently regardless of whether or not he was playing well. This was exactly the wrong approach for this player who was questioned all his career and finally found a team he thought believed in him, only to have the coach turn on him. What did the Heat expect but that Whiteside would lose confidence? Spoelstra also simply does not know how to use a traditional big man. He has shown this over the years. Spoelstra's cookie-cutter approach -- my way or the highway -- was dead wrong with this player and now the Heat and Whiteside are dead in the water. Spoelstra did not do his job with the Heat's highest-paid and most-talented player. He should not get a pass on this. -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: First, and this goes for all those who post to this space: Let's stop confusing highest-paid with most-talented. Hassan is not the Heat's most talented player. What he is, at least what he has been cast by the Heat as being, is a force of nature. The problem is that mostly has been the exception lately. But even teammates acknowledge that it is difficult to develop rhythm without consistent minutes. When the Heat sat down on July 1, 2016 and decided it was wise to commit $98 million over four years, there also should have been a blueprint of motivation, whether it was with Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Nick Arison, Juwan Howard or someone else in the organization, someone who would commit to getting Whiteside where the team needed him to be. No, Hassan was not particularly energetic or effective Saturday. But he only played 12:26 -- twelve minutes and twenty-six seconds. Josh Richardson was minus-30 for the game and played 27:21. Tyler Johnson played more. It would have seemed, that amid the lethargy, someone would have been able to reboot the Heat's "force of nature" over the course of the game. Instead, they seemingly quit on him just as it was viewed he quit on them. This is not where you want to be in mid April.

Q: The Heat had an athletic 6-7 swing-man who reminded them of Ben Simmons so much they had him play the part of Simmons in practice. However, they left him off the playoff roster, in favor of several players who they knew would not and could not play in this series (take your pick, Luke Babbitt, Udonis Haslem). Sometimes it seems like roster and playing choices are not being made based on who gives the Heat the best chance to win, but rather based on loyalty (Haslem), or trying to showcase someone with a big contract (Tyler Johnson), I guess to see if they can trade him or to justify the contract. Derrick Jones Jr. could have made a difference down the stretch in the season and playoffs. And don't give me the coaches-know-best argument. There have been plenty of coaches who haven't known best. -- A.R.

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A: Look, I don't think Derrick Jones Jr. could have changed anything but the magnitude of Saturday's rout. But that's why I had been speculating about a roster move before the end of the regular season, to get Jones on the playoff roster. But with that ship having sailed, how about more Rodney McGruder, who was such a catalyst to the second half of last season? If you're going to make a statement about Hassan Whiteside's effort, then what about a player in Rodney who is all about effort?

Q: It's the first game. In the second, we'll adjust. Just be patient. -- Andres.

A: And, finally, a voice of reason. And fact it, even with another loss, then it will be the old saw of a series not truly starting until the visiting team wins.

April 14, 2018

Q: It's hard to imagine the Heat rising higher with the Celtics, 76ers and Bucks all having very good young cores, likely to remain the top contenders for a while. Bottom line is that, for now, the Heat have to be content to remain a 44- to 47-win team.  Maybe in a couple of years, when Ben Simmons gets tired of Philly cheese steaks or the Warriors begin to break up, there will be opportunities -- unless, of course, another Kyrie Irving story pops up  out of the clear blue. -- H.S.

A: But that's what the Pat Riley Heat have long been about -- positioning themselves to seize moments, whether it's Alonzo Mourning forcing his way out of Charlotte, Shaquille O'Neal severing ties with the Lakers, LeBron James looking for something bigger. Granted, it hasn't happened to that level since 2010, which certainly is a long time in NBA years. But there were those pitches for Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward, and there was very real interest from Irving in the Heat, albeit at a time when he was not in control of that situation. The best the Heat can do at the moment is have resources they can pool in case an opportunity comes along. But this roster untouched going forward? Yes, I would agree that middle-of-the-East-pack might be as good as it gets for a while.

Q: Obviously it's not the priority right now, but what are the chances the Heat trade into the first round of the 2018 draft? We have 10 on the books for next year, 11 if you pick up the team option Jordan Mickey. Would you say Miami is content with the amount of youth we have on the team? -- John, Miami.

A: I'm not sure that "content" ever will be a word associated with the Heat front office, at least not since they were able to get LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to walk through that door in 2010. But I can't see a team with limited assets going forward utilizing them just to trade into the latter stages of the first round. With Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson, there still is developing youth. It might come down to how the Heat view Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr. going forward. Plus, the Heat could buy into the second round by having a team draft a player for them and then making the promised payment after July 1, when a new allotment to spend in trades becomes available (all of the Heat's spending money for the 2017-18 season was utilized on selling off Josh McRoberts' contract to the Mavericks).

Q: How can the Heat coaching staff get Hassan Whiteside focused on what is needed and expected of him in these playoffs? -- Michael, North Miami Beach.

A: I'm not sure that has to be on them. Yes, Hassan's minutes have been inconsistent this season. And, yes, injuries have limited continuity. But, at some point, the player has to make his own stand, show the type of relentlessness that makes it impossible for him to be removed from the game, sort of what Bam Adebayo showed in the closing stages Wednesday against the Raptors. Perhaps it's up to Hassan to dare Erik Spoelstra to take him out because of what would be lost when he is not on the floor.

April 13, 2018

Q: Hi, Ira. I think Erik Spoelstra during the season has told Pat Riley, "I can't with this guy anymore" and Riley has told him, "Do what you need to do to win." Hassan Whiteside did not sniff the fourth four quarter or overtime Wednesday night. It was Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. What is the bottom line on Hassan?  -- Eric.

A: That patience has worn thin and that the Heat have entered a portion of the season where there can't be patience. The force again was lacking from Hassan against the Raptors, with the type of shots that spun out because they weren't attempted with force. The Heat were desperate for vitality when Adebayo entered for the first time, in the second half, and played with a more aggressive motor the balance of the night. For Whiteside, it is as simple as play your way into meaningful moments. He didn't on Wednesday. That certainly could change by Saturday.

Q: Ira, if you absolutely had to choose one to take to the playoffs, would it be apex 2017 Heat (healthy Dion Waiters, active and engaged Hassan Whiteside, Luke Babbitt and Rodney McGruder as starters, killer James Johnson and Tyler Johnson bench) or apex 2018 Heat (consistent Goran Dragic, inspirational Dwyane Wade, rising Josh Richardson, reliable Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington bench)? In my opinion, it's not even close -- 2017, even though 2018 fought their way in. -- Jason, Boca Raton.

A: Agree 100 percent. The team that finished last season at 30-11 showed they could produce sustained, highest-level success. I'm not sure we've seen that this season. The Whiteside factor is huge; he simply was more active and more engaged last season. Now, there a reasonable debating point between '17 Waiters and '18 Wade, simply because Dion was injured at the end of last season. I would bet that if Vegas posted a line between the '16-17 Heat and the '17-18 Heat as to where they stand April to April, that last season's Heat would be favored, perhaps significantly, even with this season's team with a better record and a playoff berth.

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Q: To my mind, the only way to feel good about this season would be for the Heat to win the first series or at least win at least two games and be competitive in the other games.  Also, with this roster and the contracts they are stuck. And how the East is improving, the immediate future does not look great.  My one hope is that Bam Adebayo can develop and be a major contributor as a starting forward like Serge Ibaka -- Joel.

A: So you basically answered your own question, that a mere playoff victory or two might equate to little more than putting lipstick on a pig. There is a reason the Heat finished in the lower half of the Eastern Conference playoff pack -- the other teams are better. That doesn't preclude an upset, but it also doesn't necessarily make it likely, either. As last season's Heat showed, even if you reinvent yourself in the short run, does that truly define you going forward? That doesn't mean that the possibility of nonetheless making this a special season isn't possible. It's just that it is unlikely.

April 12, 2018

Q: Ira, we've seen a twenty-game sample now and a few things have crystalized.  Dwyane Wade can help this team unless . . .  he hurts this team.   This is where Erik Spoelstra needs to be comfortable pulling D-Wade, especially against very quick, athletic players that Wade matches up with.  We need our best five at crunch time and both coach and player need to understand and be OK that Wade may not fit that role any longer in certain situations.  What say you? -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.

A: What I say is that Dwyane has not shot 50 percent or better in a game since March 8, has shot 10 of 35 in Heat's last three losses, with eight turnovers and nine assists in those games. So, yes, the concerns at this stage have to be real. I know there has been and will be plenty of talk about "playoff Wade," but also appreciate that in his six playoff games with the Bulls last year, he shot .372 from the field. What Dwyane can be in the playoffs is exactly what he has been in these past 20 games with the Heat, a player who can produce moments but also a player who can't be -- and shouldn't be -- expected to carry a team over the course of a series. It is a very fine line that Spoelstra and the Heat have been walking, but there may have to times during the win-or-go-home portion of the schedule when Spoelstra will have to instead turn to Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, perhaps even Rodney McGruder, for relief. And Wade, Spoelstra and the entire team have to OK with that. If Dwyane can lead the Heat to at least one playoff win on his own then this reunion will have provided all the dividends needed.

Q: Do you see Dwyane Wade coming back next season? -- Joel.

A: I think the playoffs will go a long way toward that determination. To a degree, some of these recent games appear to have reached the point of drudgery for Dwyane, and you have to wonder if he would want to return for 82 games of that. When he went to Chicago and Cleveland, he thought he would be contending for something greater that the level the Heat currently stand. Beyond that, would it be the same without Udonis Haslem alongside, if the Heat cut that cord? And perhaps most significantly, can the Heat even make it work when Dion Waiters returns, considering Dion has practically been cast as Wade 2.0 by some?

Q: Dear Ira, if the last month was a preview of what we will see in the playoffs, then stick a fork in the Heat. They're done. Doesn't matter what seed they are and who the opponent is. Wildly inconsistent play, lack of killer instinct, playing down to lesser opponents, and plenty of nights where the stars don't show. Nope, Erik Spoelstra ain't got enough magic in his wand to make this playoff swing anything but a one and quickly done. Oh well, see ya next year. -- Pat, Deerfield Beach.

A: Or they steal one of the first two on the road and everything changes.

April 11, 2018

Q: I found it hysterical in a pregame interview prior to Monday night's game, to hear James Johnson say the team was trending in the right direction heading into the playoffs. (The word "trending" is the newest Spo-ism, and its already tiring.) The team's signature wins down the stretch have coming against the ever-dangerous Atlanta Hawks, which must really be a confidence builder. It's the Heat obtaining Dwyane Wade at the trade deadline, just to watch Philly pick up Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. (Belinelli is a player I really coveted and believe the Heat could've added, if not for reacquiring Wade.)  The Heat have slightly better than .500-level talent, and that's exactly what Erik Spoelstra has gotten out of them. I don't think it matters at all who the Heat's opponent is in the playoffs. I would make them the underdog against all the other seeds. -- Matt.

A: You are correct. And even after Monday's loss to the Thunder, the talk in the locker room was about "trending in the right direction." But the reality is that in their last five games, the Heat have lost to the Nets and Knicks and been obliterated in the fourth quarter by the Thunder. As Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said before Monday's game, it is folly to believe you can simply flip a switch and become something different when the playoff lights turn on. I do not understand the "trending" comments. Yes, after defeating the Cavaliers and even Bulls, the Heat appeared to be "trending in the right direction," but to find the last time the Heat put quality wins together, you have to go back to March 16 and March19 against the Lakers and Nuggets, two teams that both could be lottery teams, and even that is just about a month ago.

Q: Don't you think the Heat have too many lapses?  What evidence is there that the playoffs will be any different? And, it seems like the Heat could benefit from a defensive-minded point guard, a small guard who plays relentless defense. -- Stuart.

A: As stated above, there is precious little evidence. And with Dwyane Wade hardly trending in the right direction, it's not as if the Heat can count on their second unit for salvation. As for your comment about point guards, I fully agree. Tyler Johnson is not that player and the Heat and much of the league came to a similar belief about Briante Weber. The Heat at one point this season envisioned Justise Winslow in such a role, but I just don't see the lateral foot speed.

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Q: Celtics, Raptors, 76ers, Cavaliers 4-1 and goodbye. This team irks, -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: I would go that far, although I'm not sure if you are that far off should the Heat play the Cavaliers or Raptors. But I believe the Heat can force more competitive series against the injury-ravaged Celtics or neophyte 76ers.

April 9, 2018

Q: Do you still stand behind the 76ers being a more favorable matchup than Boston? -- Chris.

A: Um, no. I have been as surprised as anyone by the 76ers' success in the absence of Joel Embiid, which could continue into the playoffs, and by the length of their winning streak. The additions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova cannot be overstated, the type of veterans that the Celtics somewhat lack in their rotation. And there are far worse options than having Amir Johnson as a fill-in for Embiid. In addition, Markelle Fultz may actually be a playoff thing. Plus, there now is the threat of so much outside shooting, from Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Belinelli, Ilyasova and most significantly JJ Redick.  As for Ben Simmons, he, not Kristaps Porzingis, is the NBA's true unicorn. That big as a point guard? Now, the lack of playoff experience could be in play. But that is a legitimate conference finals roster.

Q: That was a mind-numbing fact you threw out there on the World Cup and Olympic pool. This team doesn't have a Top 35 player. Wow, that's got to smoke Pat Riley a bit. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: It also says plenty about what USA Basketball thinks about Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside, that they are not even considered good enough for such an expansive pool for upcoming national teams. Then again, perhaps it also opens a window into the thinking of Gregg Popovich, who will coach the upcoming national teams. With the Spurs potentially having to consider trades for a discontent Kawhi Leonard, it does not appear that the man who decides all things Spurs has a particular affection for much on the Heat roster. Granted, USA Basketball made the selections for the national-team pool, but you have to figure that if Popovich wanted anyone from the Heat in that pool that they would have been included. Instead, the Heat stood shut out, with the player pool including the likes of Tobias Harris, Myles Turner and Mike Conley Jr. Then again, Leonard also is in the pool, which could make for a fascinating USA Basketball camp this summer in Las Vegas.

Q: Seeing Tony Fiorentino leave is like saying goodbye to a very fond family member with whom you have wonderful Heat memories and shared Heat experiences, and for many of us, he is someone we've grown up with as Heat fans. His voice is the always pleasant, always upbeat, and always professional voice that has exuded warmth, personality, and familiarity, and given us insights delivered in a personal way that we relate to. Speaking for myself, he is even more one with the fans today than ever and while I'm sure his successor will do fine, I don't see the reason for him having to leave a fan base with whom he has become a favorite family member. It just seems like change for the sake of change, to many of us, Ira, I'm sure. Patrick, Coral Springs.

A: I have received several responses to Sunday's interview with Tony along these lines and believe this reflects the perspective others have shared.

April 8, 2018

Q: Just how much better could this team have been with Dion Waiters? Even with his up-and-down nature, three of four more wins is not out of the question. Neon Dion lives for big-time, spotlight moments. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: I'm glad you brought that up, because Dion has been so out of sight and out of mind these past few months. Short answer: I'm not sure, because we simply have not seen enough of him in moments that matter, having missed the ends of these past two seasons. And you also don't necessarily know what he is going to be when he returns from his ankle surgery. Will the explosive first step be there? Will he be able to play in the attack mode the Heat desires? As for chemistry, he almost will be starting from scratch, with the Heat rotation now designed to be in sync with Dwyane Wade. With the emergence of Josh Richardson, the uniqueness of Wayne Ellington (provided he can be retained), the Heat will have to sift through how to make it all work next season, particularly if Dwyane Wade returns.

Q: People put forth several perspectives regarding Hassan Whiteside. But here is the bottom line: if he played up to his potential then these discussions would never need happen in the first place. -- Chadwick.

A: And we saw it again Friday in New York -- the lack of force to his game, again settling for floating, push shots instead of playing with power, might, force. With the knee brace gone, I'm not sure that can be considered a factor anymore. And he certainly was given ample time to work through the hip injury. Hassan Whiteside is unique when he is explosive. Otherwise, he's just another lengthy big man. The Heat need Whiteside flexing if they are to have any hope in the postseason.

Q: Ira, do you think Erik Spoelstra would put Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup in the playoffs. -- Caleb.

A: No, because it is a bit much to ask him, at 36, to play starter's minutes, even with playoff games spaced out in the absence of back-to-backs. The Heat need Wade as a closer, and they need him to be fresh and rested for those moments. Beyond that, the Heat have spent these past few weeks developing Dwyane's second-unit chemistry with Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington, Justise Winslow, so why create yet another adjustment?

April 7, 2018

Q: Ira, this loss against the Knicks will come back and haunt them. Had they won, they would have been two full games ahead of Wizards, with the tiebreaker. That means they would be guaranteed to be No. 7, at least, and they could have lost the next two games and still been No. 7, which is what they should want. They had the chance to control their own destiny and blew it. -- Mac, Toronto.

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A: First, it hardly was a crushing defeat from a playoff standpoint. If the Heat win one of their final two games -- Monday at home against Oklahoma City, Wednesday at home against Toronto -- they still are assured of no worse than No. 7. The irony is that the Raptors could have a say in that, since they have nothing to play for and face the Heat on the final night of the season. I still believe No. 6 should be the goal, especially with Philadelphia now in control of No. 3. The Heat can assure themselves No. 6 by winning their last two, no matter what Milwaukee or Washington do. That Monday game against the Thunder could prove to be a compelling game No. 81 on each team's schedule. My gut feeling is a 1-1 Heat finish. So that would come down to deciding to instead control their positioning to settle in at No. 7. The Wizards should win their final two, against the nothing-to-gain Celtics and Magic, but, then again, they also should have won Friday against the Hawks. The Bucks close against the Knicks, Magic and 76ers, who could be playing to solidify No. 3 on closing night. So, to recap: a 1-1 close would leave the Heat at 44-38; a 2-0 close would leave the Wizards at 44-38; and a 2-1 ending would leave the Bucks at 44-38. And the Heat would get No. 6 in that three-team tiebreaker. If the Bucks win out, with the Wizards 2-0 and the Heat 1-1, then the Bucks would be No. 6, the Heat No. 7 and Wizards No. 8. Now, if the Heat close 0-2, then all bets are off. Basically, Friday's loss simply made the Heat's closing math far more complex.

Q: Would you rather face Boston, Philly or Cavs in round one? If the answer is Boston, did the Heat lose on purpose Friday to get the No. 7 seed? -- Martin.

A: There is no way the Heat brought Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and James Johnson back to lose. You can't ask good players to play bad. If you are trying to lose, you look much further down the roster when building that night's rotations. No, the Heat were just bad in New York, terrible in fact. But for those scoring at home, my preferences for the Heat's first-round opponents of the remaining possibilities would be, in this order: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Boston, 3. Toronto, 4. Cleveland.

Q: We can't risk injury, but we need to play well against OKC and Toronto. -- Sippy.

A: Agree. You don't want to go into the playoffs on three-game losing streak without a victory in a week and a half. And, for now, all the Heat have to fall back upon is their recent home success, with only two road victories since Jan. 29. Now, if there is an ailment that requires rest, that is another story. Otherwise, best foot forward at home could be significant when it comes to playoff promise.

April 6, 2018

Q: Miami fans have become sort of like Alabama football fans -- unless we're dominating in the playoffs, the season is a failure. Given the roster, the elevated competition in the East, and the fact that the kind of success we've enjoyed is very rare, I consider our current No. 6 seed to be a success, especially after missing out last year. I know we have some serious questions about the type of contracts we signed, but I would anticipate some of those being moved to accommodate more star power in the next offseason or two. -- David, Boynton Beach.

A: It's interesting, I've been asked during several media appearances whether I consider this season a success -- and I've hedged every time. First, merely making the playoffs, by itself, is nothing more than a sign of mediocrity. In a league of 30 teams, 16 make the postseason. More do than not. And I'm not sure the Heat's marginal increase in victories offers an indication of significant improvement. I would say this: 1. Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow have all gotten better. 2. Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo proved to be quality additions. 3. But James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters (because of injury) regressed. For the most part, Goran Dragic has been his steady self and Tyler Johnson his inconsistent self. So, no, I don't believe the Heat are significantly better. They just didn't start 11-30 this time, so they didn't have to finish 30-11. They are a middle-of-the-road team in a league whether middle-of-the-road teams make the playoffs sometimes and miss the playoff sometimes.

Q: Against the Hawks, I saw yet another excellent all-around stat line from Josh Richardson. I believe he is a star piece for the future of the Miami Heat and he continues to prove me right especially when our more ball-dominant guards/forwards miss games, such as Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and James Johnson. Do you also believe Josh could be an All-Star or All-Star caliber if he was given more opportunities as the center piece of the offense? -- Jihad, Brooklyn.

A: Yes, but I am not sure he is good enough to be a leading man on a championship contender. In that realm, I believe he would set up more as a second or third piece. But it will be interesting to see the Heat's approach as Goran Dragic moves toward the end of his contract. The fact that Josh has made himself an unquestioned starter certainly has been an encouraging step this season.

Q: Did the Heat intentionally lose to the Nets to lower the chances of a high draft pick for the Cavaliers? -- Alex.

A: I'm glad someone finally figured it out. Once the Cavaliers acquired the Nets' unprotected first-round lottery pick for the 2018 draft from Boston, Pat Riley informed his coaching staff to help get the Nets as many victories as possible, apparently sick of a smiling Dan Gilbert on the lottery stage. As of this posting, that has Cleveland as no better than the No. 7 lottery seed based on Brooklyn's record. I'd assume the Heat's next goal will be to focus on defeating the Knicks so New York can push past the Nets in the lottery race, as well.

April 5, 2018

Q: Ira, shouldn't the aim be to secure seventh, unless the front office is comfortable with facing the Raptors? -- Kapil.

A: The No. 7 seed is the hardest to angle for because it is difficult to win just enough for that spot but not win too much for No. 6 (or conversely, lose enough for that spot, but not lose too much for No. 8). The only decision to be made at this point is to try to win them all or to prioritize elements other than winning, such as health. The fact that Erik Spoelstra didn't immediately move to Derrick Walton Jr. or Derrick Jones Jr. on Wednesday night speaks to this not, in the Heat's case, being a tank-a-thon. And when it comes to LeBron-phobia, we'll have a better read on the Cavaliers these next two nights when they face the Wizards and 76ers. That should let us know whether they will be the definitive No. 3 seed in the East.

Q: Hey Ira, do you think Erik Spoelstra gives Justise Winslow the green light to fire at will against subpar competition to increase his confidence? Recently he's taken 12 shots against the Kings, 14 shots against the Knicks and 16 shots against the Hawks on Wednesday night. -- Jake.

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A: I'm not necessarily sure that Erik Spoelstra is encouraging shots, but it is not unusual for coaches to allow players to pad stats in situations such as Wednesday in Atlanta. So more than the shot count for Justise, the fact that he played more than any reserve and more than any player than Josh Richardson tells me that the Heat knew it was the type of moment that could get Justise's head in a better place. That said, there also was just one rebound. But, yes, Spoelstra has done that before with Winslow and even Hassan Whiteside, and he is not alone among coaches who appreciate how a positive stat line can lead to a more positive outlook for a player, no matter the competition.

Q: Usually teams tank when they bench their star players. The Heat have 15 equally mediocre replaceable parts, so it's hard for the Heat to tank. -- Mark.

A: So here we have a counterpoint to Wednesday's feel-good moment. The reality is that you can't tank against what the Hawks are offering at this stage of the season. But what Wednesday did was put Rodney McGruder and Bam Adebayo in a better place, in case they are needed in the playoffs. Still, I do believe the Heat need at least one more dress rehearsal before the playoffs. I'm not sure you can get that against what's left of the Knicks or that the Raptors will even field a representative lineup in next Wednesday's season finale. So I wonder if Erik Spoelstra uses Monday at home against the Thunder for that moment, since you know that Oklahoma City will be fully engaged.

April 4, 2018

Q: With the Heat and Bucks winning and Wizards losing how important are the last games for seeding purposes? -- Alfred.

A: As significant as each team wants to make them. Erik Spoelstra now has decisions to make with Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade, who each could benefit from time off. Honestly, Hassan Whiteside probably could, too, just to make sure that his hip is 100 percent. With the Heat, Bucks and Wizards all tied for Nos. 6-9, it will be a fascinating case study of which team steps up to the challenge of the Cavaliers. Heat players said after the game that you shouldn't tempt the fates, but is that any worse than challenging LeBron James? I know that Erik Spoelstra and the players will say all the right things, but don't be surprised if you see some wonky lineup combinations and perhaps even endure a second loss of the season in New York on Friday night. None of this matters nearly as much as what follows after the final game of the regular season.

Q: Ira, don't spew propaganda for Erik Spoelstra, who always tries to diminish the team profile so he's not blamed when they do not accomplish much in the playoffs. -- O.T.

A: It all comes down to your estimation of this roster. Granted, injuries have somewhat changed the equation. But the only way the Heat can be viewed as coming up short in the playoffs would be if you believe they are better than the Raptors, Cavaliers, Celtics or 76ers, to start. Otherwise, can there truly be an expectation of getting to or beyond the second round of the playoffs? Now, when it comes to the Pacers, yes, an argument could be made about the Heat being able to complete. But that is an unlikely first-round matchup. So should not pulling off an upset be considered failure?

Q:  Why has Luke Babbitt been inactive lately? -- B.S.

A: Because the Heat have to list four of their 17 players inactive (with only 13 allowed to be in uniform on game nights). So with Dion Waiters the team's only injured player, it means Waiters and two-way players Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr. plus one more. That one more had been Jordan Mickey, but after his solid performance filling in last Tuesday for Hassan Whiteside against the Cavaliers, he was elevated in the hierarchy. I would expected that with a playoff berth now assured that several rotation regulars will get time off, which will have Luke back on the court, possibly as soon  as Wednesday in Atlanta. As it was, he was back on the active roster Tuesday against his former team when the Heat beat the Hawks.

April 3, 2018

Q: How can someone with the skills you have on both ends of the floor be sitting on the bench so long and so often? Because basketball is 100 percent maximum effort 100 percent of the time in sports, especially at your age.

How many times have we seen a mediocre talent beat you up and down the court for easy buckets? How many times have we seen you lag behind on offense and not be anywhere near the rim for an offensive rebound? How many games have you had four or even eight blocks plus a double-double that we lost?

Basketball is all about winning plays. To make winning plays requires you to be in a position to impact the game on both ends and that requires full sprints up and down the floor, beating your opponent and not the heel-clanking shuffle we see night in and night out.

Go back and watch 39-year-old Robert Parish outrun 20-year-olds all game long. He was nowhere near your talent level but his motor was relentless. The good news is that hustle, motor and maximum effort, if you recognize those shortcomings, can be easily fixed.

We don't care if you play in five-minute stretches and have to come out panting, but during those five minutes, give us everything you've got. Make opponents fear you because they know they can't outwork you.

Skills matter, yes, and you've got a ton of them, but skills without a motor is like looking at a car in showroom but not being able to drive it home.

You claim to be an elite center.  Don't tell us, show us the effort to match the skills and we, too, can become believers. Take away any precognition of needing to pace yourself and instead set the pace to maximum effort for every second you're on the floor. -- Kind Regards, Brian, Fort Lauderdale.

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A: Selected because there were several similar offerings in the mailbag.

Q: Ira, how can people expect Hassan to stay engaged in games, when he doesn't play? I know this team is paying him a lot of money, but let's be honest, Erik Spoelstra way too often has sat Hassan down, while leaving the likes of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson in the game shooting bad shots and committing costly turnovers. Sometimes it's as if Hassan is held to a higher standard than others, and it's not fair. -- Derrick, Jacksonville.

A: Selected because this perspective also has been put forward by several corresponding to this space.

Q: Ira, I think part of Hassan Whiteside's frustration is not only the minutes but also the way he is utilized.  A big who has an offensive game should not be spending most of his time setting picks at the top of the key.  The only Heat player who seems to have good on-court chemistry and can consistently get him the ball at the right place at the right time is Dwyane Wade. In my opinion, although Goran Dragic is a great player, he is not a great facilitator, especially regarding Whiteside. -- Joel.

A: And yet another common theme that has been forwarded to this direction.

(Note to readers: Over the past few days the reaction to Hassan Whiteside's comments has led to a significant spike in the entries offered in this direction. The goal today was to offer entries reflective of the most prevalent themes offered. As always, the submissions are greatly appreciated.)

April 2, 2018

Q: Ira, I know Hassan Whiteside will get ripped by fans and media for his comments, but he is voicing what you and many others have been saying all year long. The Heat have to decide if they are going to keep him or not. I will say this, it's not as if the Heat are some elite team playing small ball. They are a slightly above .500 team. The question has to be asked is how much better would they be with a fully healthy, engaged, and properly utilized Whiteside playing 33 minutes per game? I think they would be better, but it's kind of obvious Erik Spoelstra does not. -- Robert.

A: For the first time, I'm not sure I can honestly answer the most basic question regarding Hassan, that being whether he will be with the team next season. What I know for sure is that he loves living in South Florida, enjoys his teammates, and even has spoken fondly of his relationship with the coaching staff. But with the Heat responding to his Saturday comments with a fine, it sends multiple messages. One, they're fed up. Two, no more coddling. Three, perhaps it's time to make it less comfortable for you here. And yet, what might have most frustrated the Heat through this episode is that such tensions reduce Whiteside's value on the trade market. Instead, he could become the type of distressed property that the Heat have pounced on for pennies on the dollar in recent years.

Q: Hey Ira, Heat fan from France here. I still think that Hassan Whiteside is our best player, but only if he is 100 percent mentally engaged, healthy and fully conditioned, which seems to never be the case with him. That said, I think that we should move on from him this summer, also because I'm not convinced he has the "Culture" mentality. He's good, but not what he thinks he is. -- Vincent, Paris.

A: But how did we get here? How did Hassan go from being an unstoppable force in the paint to a pariah? The NBA has long been a league of diverse personalities and it long has been the Heat's forte to maximize such unique talents, maximizing everyone from Ike Austin to Anthony Mason to Chris Andersen. So where did the Heat go wrong here? That's not saying that the majority of personal development isn't on the person, but how did this latent frustration from Whiteside reach the point to how it manifested itself Saturday night? Isn't the Heat "Culture" supposed to be above this all?

Q: Ira, all year Erik Spoelstra has coached to our opponents' strengths. Do you think that he should maybe start having teams play to our strengths and stop conceding the paint late in games? -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: This is how that works: The only way playing and staying big works against smaller lineups is if the big man bludgeons the opposition. That was the case against the Heat with Portland Jusuf Nurkic and against Oklahoma City with Steven Adams. So part of that is about Whiteside, that there can't be any flippy-dippy-do shots when he goes against undersized lineups, just brute power and force. And to be candid, that hasn't always been the case when the Heat have stayed big with Hassan against smaller lineups.

April 1, 2018

Q: Ira, everything about Hassan Whiteside, including his Saturday postgame rant, is antithetical to Heat culture. Have we seen the last of him in a Heat uniform after this season? -- Raul, Naples.

A: Actually, I'm going to disagree. If a player desperately wants to play, wants to contribute, how is that antithetical? Isn't that what a player is supposed to want? And here's what has to be taken into account, as well: Hassan's expression of disappointment came after all loss. If this was after a victory, if Erik Spoelstra's maneuvering produced a positive result, then Hassan would have had far fewer legs for his argument. But this wasn't just him not playing. This was no Kelly Olynyk late, and no Bam Adebayo at all. So this was philosophical, Erik Spoelstra's belief that going small was the best way to counter the Nets' approach. I can understand where Hassan was coming from. To be fair, no one asked Kelly Olynyk or Bam Adebayo about not playing. Hassan made himself available to the media, so he stepped forward and offered his raw perspective.

Q: I agree with Hassan Whiteside. We played to the Nets' small lineup instead of pounding them in the post. Also, we lose protection in the paint by going small. In the loss to Portland, they kept pounding us in the post; they never went small. In the loss to OKC, they stayed with Steven Adams. Hassan is right. -- Sippy.

A: And that's another element to the equation: Do the Heat truly believe that Whiteside makes their defense better? Oh, there is plenty of talk about how imposing he can be. But at lie detector time, do the Heat believe they are better defensively with Whiteside? Because, if so, perhaps the Nets would not have played Saturday with such an attack-minded bent.

Q: Ira, although I think Erik Spoelstra is a nice guy, don't you think it's a bit ridiculous of him to continue restricting Hassan Whiteside's minutes? His minutes have been an issue all year and it's frustrating to see a coach adjust to other teams, instead of having teams adjust to us. One would think that this team would value a center like Hassan after being put through down years with Joel Anthony, Dexter Pitman, Erick Dampier, and Jamaal Magloire. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

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A: Erik has benched some of the best players at times throughout his career, even Chris Bosh. He often coaches in the moment, without regard to hierarchy or salary. And that is fine -- in the moment. But there also is a cumulative effect that also must be monitored. Saturday, it reached its breaking point with Hassan. That is the other part of the equation, when the patience eventually wears thin.

March 31, 2018

Q: Do you see Isaiah Thomas on a one-year deal with the Heat this summer? The Heat can really help his game, and he can help the Heat with a real point guard off the bench. -- Brian, New York City.

A: It's interesting you ask because we were debating this on press row the other night. The Heat are known for resurrecting careers and there certainly is enough institutional knowledge there from Kelly Olynyk and Dwyane Wade. The question is whether Isaiah would be willing to bide his time on a mid-level deal (which is all the capped-out Heat could offer), when just a year ago he was looking at something closer to a $200 million package. First we have to wait for the result from his surgery. But then, should the Heat move in such direction, there would have to be accompanying moves, with the Heat bursting in their backcourt. Beyond all that, Thomas has been steadfast that he is nobody's backup point guard. Of course he also said that before he was headed for hip surgery.

Q: Even though this Heat team has had its share of disappointing losses to bad teams, we've really done well against most of the Eastern Conference playoff teams.  Does that mean we stand a good chance of making a run in the playoffs?  -- John.

A: Playoff basketball, in some respects, is almost a different sport than regular-season NBA. The scouting is far more acute. Opponents focus on what you do best. So is what you do second best good enough? And at the moments of truth, it often comes down to individual go-to greatness. At this point, in that respect for the Heat, it's almost as if it is Dwyane Wade or bust. I'm not quite sold on that was what the Heat were counting on when they traded for a 36-year-old guard. So, yes, the Heat have had their regular-season moments against the Raptors, Celtics, Cavaliers, Pacers, 76ers, Wizards and Bucks. But can they have four such moments over a seven-game span? That's what it comes down to in the playoffs. And for that to happen in 2018, it will have to be more than Dwyane Wade theatrics.

Q: Given we now have 20/20 hindsight, does Ira the GM go back in time and still give Hassan Whiteside the big contract? Why/why not? -- Patrick, Coral Springs.

A: The thing is, my hindsight would go beyond Hassan and whether he has played up to his contract. Instead, my approach would have been different if I had known to the degree the league would turn to small ball and a 3-for-all. If opposing lineups can force you to alter your approach, then that's a lot of money to have spectating. That's why I think it will be fascinating to see what happens with DeAndre Jordan and his potential free agency this summer. Is the money still flowing to the oversized and paint-bound?

March 30, 2018

Q: Will we ever get s full game with our roster without an injury? Geez. -- Ryan.

A: And yet, it almost has reached the point of what playoff team is not dealing with an injury concern, considering the status of Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Joel Embiid, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and on and on and on? So when you add that perspective, Tyler Johnson's injury pales. That's not to minimize what Tyler does or the impact of this latest ankle episode. But if you were asking which injured Heat rotation player they could work around, it well might be Tyler, especially with Rodney McGruder back and up to speed. And playing McGruder allows the Heat to keep the rest of the primary rotation intact.

Q: Nothing is promised but boy I sure would like to go into the playoffs close to everybody healthy. A lot of bodies! -- Douglas.

A: And yet without back-to-back games and spaced-out scheduling, the playoffs are a time when you can tighten your rotation. So if you assume a starting lineup of Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson (if healthy)  and Goran Dragic, then it comes down to picking and choosing from there. I would assume rotation minutes for Kelly Olynyk, Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow and Wayne Ellington, as well. So that could have Bam Adebayo left to the whims of whether the opposition opts for small ball or there is foul trouble (as was the case with Olynyk on Thursday night), with Rodney McGruder available for spot minutes in case of foul trouble.

Q: I call Erik Spoelstra a Spo-cialist because he constantly tries to "divide the pie" and "spread the wealth" equally like socialists do, except everybody knows socialism just suppresses the individual for the benefit and advantage of crooked people so they stay in power through control and abuse. -- O.T.

A: Well, duh. Of course that's why he does it. He also pools all of his players' salaries and then equally divides them, which is why Derrick Walton Jr. and Hassan Whiteside drive the same model car. Erik has long been a proponent of the hunter-gather offense and has long counted Henri de Saint-Simon as an architect of his defensive precepts.

March 29, 2018

Q: Ira, what happens when the Heat clinch? Does Dwyane Wade start sitting? Goran? Do we get more Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr.? -- Alex

A: Well, clinching of a playoff berth could happen as soon as Thursday, if the Heat beat the Bulls and the Pistons lose to the Wizards. But I can't see the Heat backing off on several counts: 1. They have a good thing going at home, and you don't want to lose that element of their momentum. 2. They have two road games left, both winnable, next week in Atlanta and New York, and they have won only once in the road since Jan. 29. The Heat will be playing in the postseason as a road team, so you would like to address that, as well. 3. In order to maintain the No. 7 seed, it will require a few more victories, and No. 7 is far preferable in the East to No. 8. So while you eventually might see a few lineups with Jones, Walton, Mickey and friends, that is more likely during the final week of the regular season than these intervening games. And a lot of it also will come down to how the Bucks and Wizards are playing.

Q: Ira, where has this version of the team been hiding? We clearly can do it, but can we do it consistently (why can't we do it consistently might be the bigger question)? We clearly have the ability to dominate and I hope we can carry this type of play into the playoffs. -- Mike, Austin, Texas.

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A: The thing is, even at this late stage of the season we're not sure who these Heat are? Is this latest, improved, version of James Johnson the real James Johnson? Will Wayne Ellington find 3-point openings when opponents are keying on him during series? And, more than anything, would Wednesday's victory over the Cavaliers (or a playoff series against them) look the same with Hassan Whiteside in the lineup? That's what has to now get answered over these final seven games: Do the Heat have to adjust to Whiteside? Or does Hassan have to adjust to the Heat?

Q: Ira, can you please give us an update on Dion Waiters? I almost forgot he is on the team. -- Tony, Carlsbad, Calif.

A: Not much to update: He is out for the season following his January ankle surgery, with the question being whether he will be good to go for training camp next season (which he wasn't for this season). He is in the locker room before games, working out regularly at the arena. The cast is off and the leg brace looks like it's coming off soon, based on his social media.

March 28, 2018

Q: Including Wednesday night's game, Hassan Whiteside has missed a full third of the Heat's regular season, with injuries, one might add, that don't seem nearly bad enough to warrant that much missed time. Ira says Hassan is working hard to get back into shape, but it seems a little much, doesn't it? On the one hand, the apparent fragility -- or, in the alternative, lack of desire, to get back into the thick of things, because injury and pain are subjective and there's no real way of knowing for sure how hurting his injury is -- has affected the Heat's chances of getting the No. 7 or higher seed, and on the other hand certainly reduced his potential value as a trade chip in the offseason. In the end, Whiteside's contract may prove more damaging than either Chris Bosh's clotting problems, which sidelined him for just about two full seasons, or the ballooning contract of Tyler Johnson, who seems to recover more quickly from injuries, especially dental ones. One other possibility, of course, is that big men recover more slowly, because there's more of them to heal. -- Demosthenes, Athens

A: This all is confounding and clearly has to be a pain issue at this stage, since Hassan has been moving about the locker room and even the bench without limitation. And he has been a regular on the bike for weeks. I believe the Heat want him back, with certain playoff matchups requiring his presence, with the Celtics and Raptors having their share of big bodies to throw at the Heat. And now, with Adebayo dealing with an ankle sprain, it has to be more than caution by the Heat. And yet, routinely, the day before games, we get the update that Hassan will be out. And it can't be because of a requirement of having to have a full practice, because Dwyane Wade returned from his hamstring absence with nothing more than a shootaround under his belt.

Q: Where has this version of James Johnson been? -- Dente.

A: It has been overshadowed by a version who believed he had to be more, simply because of the four-year, $60 million contract he signed in the offseason. That James Johnson continually eschewed the basic play for something more sublime. Only it rarely turned out that way. Now he's finding open seams and attacking them with straight-line drives, settling for simplicity. And it's the same with his passing. See an open Wayne Ellington; deliver a simple pass to an open Wayne Ellington. The drama is gone. And the James Johnson that the Heat were looking for is back.

Q: Jordan Mickey is a God in my eyes. -- Ian.

A: It certainly says something about a player who never plays to then come in and contribute. What Jordan did on Tuesday night was buy time for the rest of the Heat rotation to remain in place. Because that rotation remained in place, the Heat were able to sustain their lead against the Cavaliers.

March 27, 2018

Q: Ira, what can you do to get the Heat to No. 7? -- Thomas.

A: You would be surprised by the limitations of my powers in such situations. Even though I have forwarded an annotated breakdown of how the Heat should play out the balance of their schedule, I have yet to receive a response from Erik Spoelstra, Andy Elisburg or Pat Riley. And when it comes to the locker room, the culture of this team is to fear no one (as misguided as that approach might be when it comes to the Cavaliers playing their peak basketball). Until the Heat clinch a playoff berth, I would expect nothing less than the routine rotation with routine minutes. Once that is accomplished, I certainly could see Erik Spoelstra reducing the workload on Dwyane Wade (due to age) and Goran Dragic (due to that pesky knee issue). I also could see him make one more bid to see how Hassan Whiteside fits and who is the best complement to Whiteside. At this point, after missing so much time, Whiteside need repetitions when he returns and the Heat need to know if his status will remain fragile going into the postseason. The final games also could allow the Heat to get a read of whether they could benefit with Derrick Jones Jr. or Derrick Walton Jr. on the playoff roster.

Q: I'm starting to wonder if Hassan Whiteside will make it back before the playoffs. He's going to need a few games to get back in shape after missing this long. -- Robert.

A: The one thing I will say is that Hassan has been vigorously working on his conditioning, at least as well as one can while not on the court. But I agree, game shape is a whole different level than the stationary bike. Look, the one thing I can never assess is another person's pain and discomfort. The only thing that doesn't add up is it how such a severe setback could have happened in a non-contact game-day shootaround. But the bottom line is that if he comes back in advance of the playoffs and shows that he can contribute, then that's all that should matter. What matters most is the weekend of April 14-15, when the playoffs open.

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Q: The Heat need to find a way to play Josh Richardson at shooting guard more next season and Justise Winslow at small forward. -- Ali.

A: While I largely find positional delineations overstated, Josh's numbers have been significantly better when he starts at shooting guard. So there certainly may be something to that line of thinking. But, remember, the Heat also have Dion Waiters returning at shooting guard next season and paid him this past offseason as a starter. And then there is Tyler Johnson's ever-expanding contract, with so many of those experiments with him at point guard coming up short. As for Winslow, he seems his best when allowed to facilitate, which may not happen in Heat starting lineups that also feature Goran Dragic and James Johnson. There therefore remains plenty to figure out with the Heat's young talent.

March 26, 2018

Q: Ira, do the Heat have anyone else who can start at small forward other than Josh Richardson? I hate to be critical, but the guy is way too inconsistent. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: He certainly has been lately, perhaps pressing when home on Friday night at Oklahoma City and then uneven in the loss in Indiana. I honestly thought that Josh had turned the corner this season, that his $42 million extension would prove to be a bargain. And for a while, it appeared that it would. But again there is question about whether he is more of a sixth or seventh man. An alternative would be Rodney McGruder, who found a way to succeed at the position last season but sure seems undersized at small forward. And when it comes to James Johnson or even Justise Winslow, they appear better suited in other roles. This is the way it has been since LeBron James left, and why Pat Riley went so hard after Kevin Duran and Gordon Hayward. It's almost as if they miss Luol Deng, although the days of Luol as a small forward are in the rearview mirror. Based on the volume of players the Heat have to play in  the backcourt and the team's salary structure, the Heat really, really, really need to make it work with Josh at small forward.

Q: Ira, are the players talking about playing for the No. 7 seed? They have to know that getting Boston is the best matchup with Kyrie Irving hurt? -- Phil.

A: I have to be candid -- it is not a question I feel comfortable asking, and not one I'm sure they would feel comfortable answering.  Players are smart enough to know the last thing you do is tell an opponent that you think so little of them that you maneuvered your way into that matchup. But the Heat have plenty of smart people making decisions, people who know that an ailing Kyrie Irving is preferable to a carnivorous LeBron James. But after Sunday's loss, it's not as if the Heat can even dictate the race for No. 7, having fallen behind the Bucks. For now, it's about getting the needed three wins to assure a playoff berth.

Q: Ira, did Dan Craig have to get permission from Erik Spoelstra to play Dwyane Wade 27 minutes one game after his return? -- Champ.

A: No, he also didn't need to. Overtime happened. Dwyane played all five minutes of the extra period. Otherwise he would have been at a more reasonable 22. If the minutes were a concern, I'm sure trainer Jay Sabol would have stepped in. I will be curious to see what the approach will be with the back-to-back set with the Hawks in two weeks, which will be the Heat's final back-to-back, with none in the playoffs. While seeding still could be at issue, so will be Wade's health for the playoffs that start the following week.

March 25, 2018

Q: Did Bam Adebayo hit the proverbial rookie wall? Or does Bam miss Hassan Whiteside? Or would more playing time earlier in the year helped now?  He seems to be missing the energy from those thunderous dunks earlier in the season. -- Stuart.

Q: Bam has really been struggling recently. Not sure if he's maybe hit a rookie wall or something. Once Whiteside comes back, I could see his minutes being greatly reduced with Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson getting most of the minutes up front. -- Robert.

Q: I like Bam, not going to bash him, but he looks like the player I saw at Kentucky before they got eliminated -- a bad finisher poor rebounder. He will get better, though just saying this is the player I saw before he showed me his good play before this bad stretch of games -- H.F.

A: I believe, more than anything else, it is the man-sized challenges that Bam has faced in recent games, going back to that beat down from Jusuf Nurkic in Portland to what Steven Adams was able to do Friday in Oklahoma City. Remember, Bam does not turn 21 until July 18, so this was always more of a developmental process than a rotation assignment. And beyond physical development, it also is a matter of getting up to speed with all the veteran savvy that has been thrown at him in recent weeks amid Whiteside's absence. Yes, once Hassan returns I well could see Bam moving back into a secondary role, with minutes have been increasingly earned by Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson. I'm not sure this is necessarily a rookie wall, but rather a neophyte being thrown into playoff-race basketball, when no one is stepping out of the way of dunks or allowing youthful energy to carry the day. This is not a setback, but rather part of the expected growth process.  Now, whether that growth process get a rotation opportunity in the postseason remains to be seen.

Q: Retaining Wayne Ellington and getting a healthy Dion Waiters back will be huge next season. In my opinion, playoff performance will go a long way in determining trade value of any Heat player. -- Juan.

A: Except you won't get to see that from Dion, with the Heat yet to see whether "Philly Cheese" retains its texture in the postseason. It will, however, be interesting to see whether the Heat can survive Ellington's defense in the playoffs, when seizing upon advantages becomes essential. In the end, I'm not sure the Heat will be in any position to showcase a player in the postseason, nor do I believe that other teams will necessarily be moved to engage in trade talks because of such a small sample size. The exception, though, could be Hassan Whiteside. A big postseason by the Heat big man could afford the Heat the opportunity to gauge where that market might stand.

Q: Do you think trading away Kelly Olynyk or James Johnson makes sense to free up cap space for Jabari Parker? -- Chase.

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A: Probably not, but either move, on its own, still would not get the Heat into the space race, considering where they will stand against the salary cap, with Tyler Johnson's salary escalating. I find it difficult to conceive the Heat being part of this summer's space race. It would take a significant salary dump for the Heat to move into such a position, something more than offloading James Johnson or Kelly Olynyk, if that even were to be a consideration.

March 24, 2018

Q: With Kyrie out indefinitely now every game is even more must-win to get the seventh spot and Boston. -- Chris.

A: Look, with Kyrie Irving undergoing a knee procedure and with Marcus Smart out, the Celtics clearly would stand as the opponent of choice among the option of Raptors, Cavaliers or Celtics. But there also is a chance for the Heat to get into the No. 4-No. 5 matchup, which would be on the other side of the Eastern Conference draw from Cleveland, so there is that to consider, as well. But it's not as if the Heat would be the only one able to figure that out. Coaches always say publicly how you can't tempt the fates, how you'd better be careful what you wish for . . . blah, blah, blah. But don't kid yourself, the No. 7 seed could be wind up coveted by teams fighting to get there to avoid No. 8, as well as teams that might not necessarily mind falling down to that spot. You might see more than a few curious results in the East playoff race over the final week of the season, depending on Kyrie's prognosis. As crazy as it sounds, the Heat might be better off not winning much more, if at all, from here on out. Cleveland has totally turned it around since Kevin Love's return. No. 6 in the East hardly is desirable territory -- and a place the Heat could wind up with the Wizards so uneven.

Q: Bam Adebayo's main goal this offseason should be to add strength. -- Rosen.

A: I'm not sure how much muscle can be added to that frame, a frame more in line with power forwards, who also happen to be a dying breed in today's NBA. And that leads to the question of whether Erik Spoelstra would be comfortable playing Bam alongside Hassan Whiteside, instead of in place of him. The three revolving big man might be a riddle that goes unsolved this season by the Heat. But it is an issue that has to eventually be addressed. As it is, you could see where Hassan Whiteside could have helped Friday ion Oklahoma City. Now, maybe with more experience and moxie, Adebayo will be better able to contend with Steven Adams -- and Adebayo's play improved as Friday's game went along -- but for now there still is a large growth curve ahead.

Q: Ira, what are the chances the Heat going after Paul George this offseason? He can play the two or three and even the four when we go small? -- Alex.

A: I would say zero because of the Heat's lack of cap space, but Pat Riley has gone shopping short of cash before, so I couldn't fully rule it out. But it's not as if the Heat have pieces to entice in a sign-and-trade, if that were even to be possible because of cap and tax rules. No, the Heat's best chance was when Indiana dealt him last season, and, it turns out, for more value in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, than the Heat could have offered. I'm not sure I can see an avenue for the Heat for an A-list free agent this summer, which would require a major sell off of pieces that might not be so sellable.

March 23, 2018

Q: I know that the days restriction on two-way contracts ends when the G league season does, but: Could a player return if he has zero days remaining? Are two-way players playoff eligible? -- Jeff.

A: Yes, any and all two-way players can finish the balance of the NBA season on NBA rosters once the G League regular-season ends Saturday, regardless of if they have any NBA days left or if that total had hit zero, as is the case for the Heat with Derrick Walton Jr. But, no, such players are not playoff eligible unless they have a spot on the 15-player NBA roster, with such a move required prior to their team's final game of the regular season. That will make it interesting to see if the Heat choose to open a roster spot for either Derrick Jones Jr. or Derrick Walton Jr., or both. One possibility is waiving Jordan Mickey to open such a slot, another could be asking Udonis Haslem to step aside for the postseason (which I don't see happening).

Q: As a basketball fan, it is amazing following all the movements of Kelly Olynyk. Everything he does on the court makes a lot of sense, always. He is not an All-Star, but contributes a lot. My question: Does he play better and match better with Bam Adebayo than with Hassan Whiteside? -- Enrique, Miami.

A: It certainly would seem that way, particularly because of Adebayo's ability to defend on the perimeter. There are not many opposing lineups that allow the Heat to comfortably play Olynyk and Whiteside together. And that could be a problem, since these recent games in Whiteside's absence have shown that Kelly needs to be on the court -- a lot.

Q: Ira, I think the most important reason to make the playoffs is as a barometer to see where this team stands in the East.  If we can go on a good run, we might as well try to keep things mostly together. But if we bomb out, we probably need to make some big changes.  Plus, we can see which players exceed when it counts. -- John.

A: I think your last point is the most significant. For all the Heat have seen from James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder the past two seasons, and even Bam Adebayo this season, they have not seen them in the playoffs. That is when you take measure of the ability to succeed in meaningful moments. As for your first two points, I'm not sure playoff results will necessarily lead to a change in the roster composition, simply because the Heat are highly limited in their roster flexibility.

March 22, 2018

Q: Let's be honest. Hassan Whiteside is gone this offseason. The Heat's fast-paced offense doesn't work with him on the floor, and they are scoring in bunches without him. -- Bert.

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A: First, you play to a style that fits your personnel. So, of course, when Hassan is available you are going to play a different game. And while fast paced certainly is fun, is it the best game for the Heat? While you might be able to do it against Denver and New York, do you truly believe that Heat can win a how-high-can-you-go playoff series against the Raptors or Cavaliers, or even Wizards? When Erik Spoelstra says, "We got to our game," and it is this game, then I'll be a believer. That said, there have been several times when Hassan has been out that I have wondered whether the Heat aren't better off, simply because they are not relying on his rebounding, not relying on his shot-blocking, not relying on his post play -- and because they are relying on Kelly Olynyk. When Hassan returns, there will have to be  degree of compromising, perhaps to fit in more than a leading man might expect.

Q: Is Erik Spoelstra now an offensive genius? The team is scoring lots of points. What changed? -- Stuart.

A: Kelly Olynyk happened. Wayne Ellington happened. A dynamic second unit happened. By playing to -- and staying with -- his depth this season, Spoelstra has, as he would say, expanded his menu. That, in turn, has given the Heat enough hot hands to step in when others go cold, as evidenced by James Johnson's off night on a night the Heat still scored 119 Wednesday night. In fact, I'm curious to see how Spoelstra next works Dwyane Wade back in.

Q: One does not stop Michael Beasley. Michael Beasley stops himself. -- Em.

A: But, bless him, he often remains the best thing that can happen to a bad team. Without Beasley, Wednesday's game would have been over at halftime for the Knicks -- instead of in the third quarter. There should be a place in the NBA going forward for Michael, without having to bide any more time in China. (But, no, I don't see it happening with the Heat.)

March 21, 2018

Q: Ira, I have had enough of Hassan Whiteside's ups and downs this season. Jabari Parker doesn't seem to be a fit with the Bucks at power forward and they need a physical big man. Could this be an offseason trade possibility that makes sense for both teams? -- Dave, Hobe Sound.

A: First, with Parker an impending free agent, it's not as if such a trade even would be possible. Beyond that, I'm not sure the Heat necessarily need to address power forward, with Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, James Johnson and Justise Winslow in place. But that doesn't mean that Milwaukee doesn't make sense as a trade partner. A deal that could work for both teams, particularly if the Bucks truly believe they need to address their power void, could be Khris Middleton for Hassan Whiteside, with the Bucks throwing in one of the contracts they're looking to unload, perhaps John Henson. Of course, until the Bucks select their next coach, and until we know his philosophy, any such speculation remains premature. But Middleton would provide the Heat with the type of veteran wing scorer who could improve their rotation.

Q: I know the Heat like to shroud everything in secrecy, but to act like these injuries are minor, yet consistently rule Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside out the day before the game seems a tad fishy. -- Sam.

A: Actually, the Heat's approach with listing players as "out" is that if a game were to be played that day those players would not to play. So it is possible for such status to change from out to something otherwise on game days. And the Heat have not termed the injuries "minor," but rather have not addressed them at all. Still, with Wade participating in Monday's shootaround, albeit work that did not require contact, it appears he could be back soon.

Q: I think it's time to feature Josh Richardson as the Heat's key player. -- Paul.

A: And I believe the Heat are exploring those options, which included drawing up the final play of regulation on Monday night against the Nuggets for Josh. While there wasn't a payoff that time, it shows the trust. Josh certainly has the makings of a 20-point player. The question is whether that is attainable in the Heat's equal-opportunity approach.

March 20, 2018

Q: Ira, why didn't the Heat have Goran Dragic taking the shots at the end of the fourth quarter and the first overtime? He is out highest-paid player and our go-to player. Now I can see why Dwyane Wade was getting all those shots. -- Sher.

A: First, Goran tends to expend so much energy with his probing style that I often feel he is exhausted at the ends of games. But beyond that, I like the approach Erik Spoelstra took, first with Josh Richardson at the end of regulation and then with James Johnson at the end of the first overtime. No, neither scored, and neither got into a particularly high-percentage scoring area, but at some point you have to take measure of what you have and get players familiar with such situations. It was only a couple of months back when Josh Richardson scored the game winner against the Jazz, and it was in the heat of last season's playoff race when James Johnson scored the winner in Washington. Granted, if Dwyane Wade was healthy, he well may have attempted both of those shots. But putting others in such positions, even if they come up short, could pay dividends down the road.

Q: Do the Heat score 149 with Hassan Whiteside playing? -- Clark.

A: There are so many ways to go with this, including the fact that if the Heat had one of their best players, the game possibly doesn't go into overtime -- let alone double-overtime -- in the first place. Beyond that, I still am having a hard time wrapping my head around that total. The thing is, Erik Spoelstra found a matchup advantage when he played James Johnson at center, forcing the Nuggets to defend him with Nikola Jokic. Does he do the same thing if Whiteside is available? But since you come here for answers, no, I do not believe the Heat scores 149 if Hassan plays, because of both his defensive presence and the way likely would have slowed to feature more post play.

Q: Ira, Tuesday the NBA officials are going to say James Johnson was fouled at the end of overtime. -- Eric.

A: With the NBA's Last Two Minute report including the final two minutes of regulation and all of the overtime periods, there obviously will be plenty to assess. My question is whether we will wind up, at some point, finding another five-second violation. We'll know around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

March 19, 2018

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Q: We need to face Boston in the first round. -- Kendall.

Q: If I'm Miami, I'd much rather play a LeBron James who is more than likely leaving the Cavaliers next season and a 50 percent Kevin Love than a Toronto Raptors team that is hungry and playing good basketball and who have a healthy superstar. -- Willy.

Q: Thinking of seeding, I think the Heat are more confident in playing the Raptors. The Cavaliers are better than the Celtics who are better than the Raptors. -- Flash.

A: So there you have it. The preference from the fans base is to face the Celtics (who lost badly Sunday) . . . or the Cavaliers . . . or the Raptors. I've already stated my thoughts that anyone-but-the-Cavaliers would be the preference here, because LeBron James, even if he is leaving Cleveland, is not going out in the first round. But everyone at the top in the East has exposed flaws at times. So if there is a No. 1-No. 8 upset, it wouldn't be to UMBC-Virginia levels. For the moment, it would seem impossible to dictate and secure a preferred matchup. But it will be curious, as we get to the latter games of the season to see if teams do try to align themselves for a particular matchup, either from the top or from the bottom.

Q: The playoffs are a forgone conclusion at this point. We need these guys 100 percent healthy if we will have any chance at making some noise in the postseason. -- Zach.

A: I'm not sure the Heat ever will look at anything as a forgone conclusion, even if the Pistons do look like they're gasping as they approach the finish line. But I agree that this is no time to take chances with Hassan Whiteside or Dwyane Wade. You need Whiteside pain free. And with an older player such as Wade should be given all the time possible when it comes to something like a hamstring.

Q: Will Luke Babbitt start again? -- Frank.

A: I'm assuming this is not a fantasy-basketball question (either that or that your fantasy league had a lot of teams). I wouldn't summarily dismiss the possibility, especially if the Heat get to a point late in the season where they are comfortable with their playoff seeding. But if the roster is healthy, I can't see Erik Spoelstra cycling back in that direction.

March 18, 2018

Q: It's been a good year for the Miami Heat. Getting to the playoffs is one thing, but the most important aspect was developing young talent. Which players would you say made the biggest "leaps" in their game between training camp and now? Which do you think could blossom further in a playoff experience? -- Bryan, Honolulu.

A: First, nothing was more important this season than making the playoffs -- development included. The last thing the Heat wanted was the Suns winding up with a lottery pick from the Goran Dragic deal. That said, there has been significant development. Justise Winslow has shown he can be a standstill 3-point shooter and quality distributor. Josh Richardson has proven he is a worthy starter. Bam Adebayo has made the type of first-year leap most teams would embrace from a one-and-done prospect. And proving you are never too old to develop, Wayne Ellington has added a remarkable ability to convert 3-pointers on the full sprint. As for players who can develop with playoff experience, Winslow already showed he was up to such a challenge in 2016, with this now an opportunity for Richardson to take such a stride. And that's another reason that the playoffs matter -- it allows you to take the truest measure of players' possibilities, measures the Heat never got to take last season with James Johnson and Dion Waiters.

Q: This team is an absolute roller coaster. One minute they lose to a team that has no ambitions on winning, in Sacramento, and the next, they beat a Lakers team that has surprised people over the second half of the season -- M.P.

A: Such is the type of maddening inconsistency you get without multiple star-level players, something even LeBron James is experiencing in Cleveland in the absence of Kevin Love. So, yes, there will be nights when Goran Dragic can get it done mostly alone, but there also are nights when the Heat's journeyman-level talent plays that way. Still, Erik Spoelstra has shown an ability to get his players up for the moment when a moment of truth is at hand, which is why I still believe the Heat will throw a scare or two at the opposition during the playoffs. But until the Heat get multiple players playing at star level, this is about what you can expect: can beat anyone; can lose to anyone.

Q: This is not the time for $24 million players to nurse injuries. It's a time to draw a deep breath and contribute to the push for the playoffs.  Dwyane Wade, who's still worth more than $24 million, can be excused because he's 36.  Others should be treated to watching Pat Riley put his head in a bucket of ice water.  Need I say more? -- H.S.

A: First, I'm not sure, at 72, that Riley is still up to an ice-water challenge. Second, could you possibly be any more transparent? And yet, with the Heat merely listing Hassan Whiteside being out with hip pain, instead of quantifying an injury to a greater degree, you would have to wonder if he's not back Monday against the Nuggets. The Heat need to the relief points, rebounds and blocked shots that Whiteside provides. That said, what they can't afford is a Whiteside who returns at anything less than full speed and full force. That would be equally unfair to teammates willing to push through anything and everything.

March 17, 2018

Q: Ira, watching the Heat swarm the ball against the Lakers was a thing of beauty. I bet when Pat Riley watched and heard them playing, "Welcome Back," he probably thought it was about the Heat's defense. It was good to see them make a stand, and I'm not just talking about the final play. -- Maury.

A: As Erik Spoelstra said after Friday's game, that's what the Lakers game was all about. The Heat were humbled in the first half of the game in Portland and then the game in Sacramento. This time they were active and put in the effort needed when Hassan Whiteside is not there to clean up mistakes. And it wasn't just defenders such as Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow, it even was Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington. The Heat were well aware of how the Lakers outhustled them and outran then in L.A.'s victory in Miami. Friday showed that the Heat get it, as far as recognizing that it has to be a 48-minute passion on that end of the court, especially when they're playing without a pair of scorers. It was heartening, very heartening, to see the return of that zeal, and particularly to see it come in a victory.

Q: I believe Erik Spoelstra has found where exactly Justise Winslow fits into this Heat team, aside from a defensive stalwart -- as backup point guard. It's really the only time his offensive game has thrived. Robert, Washington.

A: Agree, but that also is the role where Dwyane Wade has thrived. To a degree, that has somewhat retarded Justise's growth, with these games in Wade's absence allowing him to take additional strides. I'm not sold, however, on Justise's ability to defend fleet opposing point guards (he defends more through positioning and savvy than necessarily athleticism). So playing Justise at point guard could require an athletic guard alongside, to potentially switch defensive assignment. In fact, if ranking Justise's skills, I would rate his playmaking ahead of his defending.

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Q: I just read that the disabled-player exception from Dion Waiters' injury expired unutilized. Why did the Heat not use this? It seems like a waste. A higher playoff seed is in sight. -- Darrell.

A: Because the Heat made their moves with Dwyane Wade and Luke Babbitt at the NBA trading deadline. And the exception did not add an additional roster spot. So why spend just because you have it? That said, I would make one more move if I were the Heat. With the Heat's injury issues on the wing, I would use the remainder of the mid-level exception (or even the league minimum) on Derrick Jones Jr. to convert his two-way contract to a standard contract and make him playoff eligible. By doing that, the Heat also could write it as a multiyear deal and get him under contract for next season, as well.

March 16, 2018

Q: Ira, Andrew Wiggins is clearly displeased with being on the Wolves. Is this Pat Riley's chance to strike for a whale? The Wolves want complementary pieces, and Heat want a young, budding star. This could be the perfect match Riley has been waiting for -- Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside should all be in play -- Mac, Toronto.

A: First there is the question of whether Wiggins is what you say, a "whale," a player destined for multiple All-Star berths. But getting beyond that, your offer hardly would appear enticing enough. The Timberwolves already have Karl-Anthony Towns at center, and I am not sure there are many players less likely to mesh with Tom Thibodeau than Hassan. As for James Johnson, it is hard to fathom any team, based on his play this season, taking on the remaining three seasons on his four-year, $60 million contract. If you want Wiggins, you would likely have to start with Winslow, Josh Richardson and then see whatever else the Timberwolves would want. And if Minnesota would want a first-round pick, well, then the Heat would be out of luck at that point. All of that said, yes, Wiggins is a move-the-needle player. And, yes, Pat Riley desperately needs to add someone of that ilk.

Q: Ira this Heat team is an enigma, nonetheless it appears that they are what they are: a .500 squad. We have nice complimentary players and even without a superstar they are in most games. I was excited for this season, but it has been underwhelming at times. I've never seen a team beat themselves so much. The failure to prevent end of quarter buzzer-beaters and not sticking to the game plan is hurting them. Does Erik Spoelstra need to change up the X's and O's? The dribble handoff should not be run every time down. It eats the clock, creates stagnant offense and is predictable. Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk can do more out of the post. Why not run plays out of the post instead of forcing off-balance threes? -- Nick.

A: I agree that the Heat have become predictable on both ends of the court. Now, Spoelstra certainly could argue that if the approaches -- dribble handoffs, pick-and-roll coverages -- are executed properly that they still are and could be effective. So that could make it more of a personnel issue, that the level of players needed to take those approaches to the next level are not available. Predictability becomes the bane of playoff losers. The postseason is when individual talent makes the difference. At the moment, this is a nice team, with nice players, running nice sets. Little overwhelms. And that is the issue.

Q: Pat Riley recently echoed the sentiments of Erik Spoelstra that the Heat "have enough," despite the many varying lineups that have been played thus far. I'm guessing that the proviso in that statement is if the collective health of the team is in place, unlike having to play the current road trip without Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson. You and many who have written in and posted to your column have pointed out the multitude of bad losses this year (to lower-echelon teams). Even if some or most of those losses occurred when key players (other than Dion Waiters who has been out most of the season) were out, there clearly is not enough on this team unless the goal is to just make the playoffs as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and possibly win a round or two. Even that is not a given at this time and with this roster. Mediocrity reigns on this team with mostly inconsistent play. We have a middle-of-the-pack team in the Eastern Conference and a lower-echelon team if it were in the Western Conference. I guess at the end of the season, Pat will revisit his assessment and there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the Heat culture will warrant upgrades. -- Mike, North Miami Beach.

A: If Pat Riley remains true to his core values (or at least what had been his core values), then being competitive for anything less than homecourt in the first round of the playoffs has to be considered unacceptable. If those expectations remain, then the Heat have to find a way to dramatically overhaul. For the first time, I do wonder if one of the ways might be to maximize their 2019 first-round draft pick (feel free to fill in the blanks from there).

March 15, 2018

Q: The Heat were without three of their four best players against the King. Contrary to what Erik Spoelstra says, they did not have enough. -- Sergio.

A: And that is the perspective somewhat lost in Wednesday's overtime loss to the Kings. The Heat didn't have enough -- which is also a somewhat telling indictment of this roster. I agree that Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson and Dwyane Wade -- the three players sidelined in Sacramento -- along with Goran Dragic stand as the Heat's four best. For all the talk of what Whiteside it not, the losses Monday to the Blazers and then Wednesday to the Kings show how he still is a far more polished presence than Bam Adebayo. And if a 36-year-old Dwyane Wade stands among your top four players, well that also speaks to the uneven play this season from James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson. Even Kelly Olynyk has not cracked that top four this season. So when you get down to it, an argument could be made that with De'Aaron Fox and Zach Randolph, the Kings had two of the three best starters Wednesday. The loss was another stark reminder that the mix put together in the offseason (save for the Dion Waiters injury) hasn't been nearly consistent enough this season.

Q: I was watching the Sacramento game. I saw two clear shots of Justise Winslow right below the rim, alone, without anyone pressing him -- both failed. How is it explainable for an NBA player? It is not an accident. It is lack of confidence at the time of shooting? With all my respect to him, nobody in the coaching staff sees that? The level of confidence granted to him by Erik Spoelstra is not corresponding with quality. -- Lorenzo, Miami.

A: Not going to sugarcoat it, such misses seemingly are unfathomable -- and costly. The Heat regularly drills players with coaches either shoving them or hitting them with pads to simulate contact during finishes. But wide-open layups? NBA players should be -- have to be -- beyond that. It's almost as if Justise doesn't allow the game to slow down enough at the moment of truth. But, at the moment, because the Heat need so much of what Winslow can contribute, I guess you have to accept the accompanying foibles of youth.

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Q: The road losing streak is going to be 10 after Friday. They're not beating the Lakers playing like this. -- Robert.

A: No, they're not, which is a reminder that if the Heat were in the Western Conference they'd like be somewhere close to 11th or 12th place.

March 14, 2018

Q: Would Willie Reed, now that he was let go by the Chicago Bulls and waived as unrestricted free agent, be a perfect solution for the rest of the season to complement the inconsistencies of Hassan Whiteside, and all his sudden ailments? Kelly Olynyk is more a power forward than a true center and Bam Adebayo is too new in the league. Willie Reed played for the Miami Heat some very good games during the 30-11 finish to last season. -- Frank, Hollywood.

A: Save for Whiteside's latest injury, I'm not sure much has changed when the door slammed shut on Willie during last summer's free agency, after drafting Bam and  then signing Kelly. There still aren't enough minutes to go around. Plus there is the matter of the NBA getting involved in Willie's legal situation. Now, if you're asking whether Willie would provide an upgrade over what the Heat have at the back end of their power rotation, that certainly would be a reasonable argument. But I certainly can't see the Heat waiving Udonis Haslem to rent Reed for a month or two. And I'm not even sure they would do that to Jordan Mickey.

Q: There has been a great deal of discussion this year in regards to James Johnson, and rightfully so due to incredible inconsistencies. My question is this: What are the chances his contract could be moved? To me, outside of Dion Waiters being injured, Johnson was the worst signing of the offseason and arguably the worst contract Miami holds. What are your thoughts? -- Joan, Atlanta.

A: I agree that this season's James Johnson looks, in no way, like the Johnson who finished last season with impactful performances during the 30-11 close to the season. And it's not as if Erik Spoelstra hasn't tried anything and everything, including starting him, playing him off the bench, featuring him both at small forward and power forward, even finding ways to get him back alongside Tyler Johnson. I'm still not sold that the conditioning is the same, even though James has insisted that is the case. In many ways, it almost would be a relief to learn at season's end that he had been playing through some sort of injury that can eventually be treated. Otherwise, with three more seasons at about $45 million total left on his contract, I'm not sure any team is making a play for a backsliding 31-year-old forward.

Q: If Erik Spoelstra isn't careful, we may see a repeat of last year's end of the season, where we missed the playoffs by a game. Someone should remind him to pay more attention. -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: I can assure you that he is doing nothing but paying attention to anything and everything that gets that playoff designation next to the Heat in the standings. Anything short of that arguably would be among the bitterest disappointments in his coaching career, perhaps even beyond losing those 2011 NBA Finals to the Mavericks (but likely not as stinging as losing out on last season's tiebreaker by a tiebreaker). But what he can't do is tell injured players when to get back on the court. With Dwyane Wade, at 36, you had to figure he was going to miss some time at some point. What we haven't seen, though, is the type of relationship where Hassan Whiteside would be willing to run through a brick wall in order to get back on the court for Spoelstra. That sort of desperation would significantly assist the process.

March 13, 2018

Q: Do you think Dwyane Wade will be back for the game against the Lakers? -- Nic.

A: Dwyane is at the point where he will be smart enough to listen to his body, appreciating that at 36 you have to be particularly patient so a minor injury does not turn into something greater. As long as the Heat advance to the playoffs, which is getting closer to inevitable, the biggest part of Wade's work will be done. It is rare that a player would rule himself out of a game two days in advance, as Dwyane did on Saturday night. But it also tells you that at his age, no one knows his body better. To me it is not as much about when Dwyane comes back as much as whether the hamstring issue will turn chronic. Enough chemistry has been developed for Dwyane to pick up where he left off.  As it is, with Dwyane limited to an average of half a game in his return, teammates already have been dealing with extended time without him on the court. All of that said, this would seem to be a good time to consider recalling Derrick Jones Jr. from the G League, with four NBA days left on his two-way contract, enough to get him through the balance of this trip, plus one possible additional game later before the restriction ends on March 24 (when all two-way players can return to the NBA, with the end of the G League season). Jones scored a G League career-high 33 points Monday for the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Q: How come everyone else has shooters? -- Taylor.

A: I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. The Heat, after all, have Wayne Ellington, Luke Babbitt and Kelly Olynyk, one of the league's better-shooting big men. What the Heat don't have are the types of lineups that, like many of this era's successful teams, have four shooters on the court at most times. Such is the tradeoff of post-oriented players such as Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo, and now going with Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow and James Johnson for extended stretches. For a while, it looked like James Johnson would be that type of player, but that hasn't been the case. The thing is your 3-point shooters can't just be 3-point specialists. But it does feel, at times, as if the Heat are playing the game by twos while the opposition is playing by threes.

Q: When do the Heat have to set their playoff roster? -- Steve.

A: It is not like it used to be, when such a decision had to be made prior to the start of the postseason. Instead, it is the same as the regular season, where you can decide game to game which 13 players will be active. As for as what players can be playoff eligible, they basically have to be on the Heat roster prior to the regular-season finale, and have to be on standard NBA contracts (not the type of two-way deals that Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr. hold). So the Heat, in case of injury, still have time to possibly bolster the roster. The only caveat is that for a player to be playoff eligible he cannot have been on another NBA team's roster after March 1. So a player who has been out of the league this season, perhaps overseas, could sign on anytime between now and closing night.

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March 12, 2018

Q: Ira, how does Dion Waiters fit in? He was supposed to be the next Dwyane Wade and now Wade is back. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson have gotten the job done without Waiters. Will the Heat trade him? – Allen.

A: Next season is long way off, and things tend to have a way of sorting themselves out in the interim. I would find it highly unlikely the Heat would be able to find a taker for Waiters, with three years left on his four-year, $52 million contract, let alone if they would want to. You typically don't deal for a player who has been beset by ankle issues in consecutive seasons. Of course, for all the money due Waiters, it still is less than what Tyler Johnson will earn the next two seasons, if it is possible to find a taker for that deal. The upshot could be Heat reluctance to offer Justise Winslow an extension by his Oct. 31 deadline, when considering that on the wing the Heat still will have potentially Wade along with Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington. Then again, it could be that Ellington, an Early-Bird free agent could wind up as the odd man out in the backcourt. For now, it's a good problem to have, especially if you're not the one paying the bills.

Q: Erik Spoelstra is underutilizing Bam Adebayo. He's a younger version of LaMarcus Aldridge. Just look at his summer-league tapes to confirm his shooting skills. He is not being allowed to shoot. He can easily make 15- to 20-footers. -- Skip, Tampa

A: Baby steps. Baby steps first. The comparison to Aldridge at this stage is a stretch. And at this point, the Heat have enough viable options to handle as much of the midrange as needed (which is not a lot), in Dwyane Wade and Tyler Johnson. So first, make rebounding and defending the priorities, with Adebayo's positioning still at issue at times. Eventually more can be asked, but this is not the time. Now, heart and hustle should be the launch point, not launching jumpers. That's not to say that if they are there that he is not qualified. But they need to come through the offense, not as a focus of the offense.

Q: Hey Ira, if we make the playoffs and everyone on our roster is available to play (other than Dion Waiters) realistically how deep of a playoff run could we make? – Mitch.

A: The playoffs are not about quantity, they're about quality. With no back-to-back games and ample rest opportunities, depth often can be minimized in the postseason. What matters most at that stage is players capable of rising to the next level. We didn't get to see that last season, so we remain somewhat uncertain with several players on the roster. But the 2016 run to the Eastern Conference semifinals did include several impressive moments from Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside. So there's that.

March 11, 2018

Q: So better without Hassan Whiteside? -- Maurice.

A: I got a bunch of these during and after the blowout victory over the Wizards. Yes, the Heat looked as good Saturday as they have in weeks, but it also was  against a team coming off a game the night earlier and losing an hour in transit. Plus, the Wizards really aren't the Wizards without John Wall. The thing is, no matter what you do or don't think about Hassan, that also happen to be the position where the Heat are best covered, able to infuse the energy of Bam Adebayo into Saturday's starting lineup and then able to bring Kelly Olynyk's double-double skills off the bench. Look, Hassan was very good Thursday against Joel Embiid and the 76ers. And the Heat will need him on this upcoming trip. What Saturday did was answer the question about why the Heat opted for three high-level centers. Saturday was why. And the margin of victory just as well could have been as prolific with Whiteside on the court, or are you forgetting Thursday night?

Q: Ira, James Johnson is better in the first unit just as Justise Winslow is in the second unit. -- Ricardo, Brazil.

A: And that is what much of this season has been about, finding units and combinations that work. What the Heat currently are finding is what they found out during the second half of last season, that James Johnson and Tyler Johnson complement each other. What they have learned is that Winslow and Dwyane Wade have something special of their own, particularly when Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington are alongside. It has been months of experimentation in search of rotation answers. It appears those answers have arrived when  needed most.

Q: Ira, in your educated and honest opinion, how much longer, how many more seasons of watching and enjoying Dwayne Wade is in store? -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: At the moment there is absolutely no reason to consider going anywhere. Ultimately, it could come down to a similar career arc as Kobe Bryant, that his body will tell him when it's time. At 36, and moving forward, it becomes all about injuries, which are far harder to overcome as you age. As long as the health is there, there is no reason for Dwyane to be anywhere else, since he has proven over this past month that plenty of game remains, especially when the minutes are kept to a reasonable amount. For now, I would not overstate this current hamstring issue. For now.

March 10, 2018

Q: Ira, are we witnessing the rise of Miami's 2015 picks and rise of their future? The way Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson has been playing, they look like future All-Stars. And that is without mentioning Bam Adebayo. Pat Riley got three really nice young pieces 10th, 14th and 40th. Not bad -- Mac, Toronto.

A: All-Stars? Let's not jump ahead of ourselves here. Contributing pieces? Absolutely. And that's the whole thing about the Winslow-Richardson dynamic. If someone would tell you, as you watch the two, that Richardson went No. 10 and Winslow at No. 40, you would have said it was a solid draft. That's why it is so interesting to see what happens when Winslow is eligible for an extension in the offseason. Does he get as much as Richardson got this past offseason? Could he seek more? Would the Heat offer as much? And, yes, Adebayo has shown plenty. But now the Heat are caught in the web of drafting "the best player available," when you also have two other quality players at his position, in Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk.

Q: If only there was a Joel Embiid on every team in the league, so we could get this Hassan Whiteside every night. -- Mialles, Boston.

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A: And that's the thing. If nights such as Thursday are possible at that level of competition, then there is nothing wrong with putting similar expectations on Hassan in other games, including Saturday against Marcin Gortat. It can't just be because of rivalries or ego. It has to be because you view yourself as a dominant big man. Dominant big men dominate on a regular basis. So now we see if there is carryover, or if Thursday against the 76ers is more of the exception.

Q: Justise Winslow was very good his rookie year playing alongside Dwyane Wade. He was hurt last season and so-so earlier this season. Now he is back to the second unit and playing great next to Wade again. You think this is a coincidence or he just plays well alongside Wade? -- Daniel.

A: Not coincidence at all. In fact, the chemistry has been special throughout the Heat's second unit, including with Kelly Olynyk. I think that also factors into why Erik Spoelstra has stayed with James Johnson in the starting unit, to avoid an overload of ballhandlers and ball-needers in the second unit.

March 9, 2018

Q: Everyone's saying the same thing, in different ways. James Johnson isn't what he was last year because others have moved up; Whiteside doesn't perform to previous levels because the offensive approach has changed; Justise Winslow doesn't have a clear role; Ira says the NBA is based on stars. In the final analysis, the star system is much simpler, less of a coaching challenge -- just give them the ball and they either make or break their respective teams. When you opt for ensemble, by choice or out of necessity because no star can be bought or drafted, the coaches have to find a way to extract the best from multiple, maybe many multiple, players at the same time And that's really difficult. Neither Hassan Whiteside nor Goran Dragic, not even Dwyane Wade in the long run, can carry the team over time. With its present roster, two or more likely three or even four players have to be clicking at the same time. Not easy at all. -- Telly.

A: And yet that is the lot they cast by loading up on mid-level, mid-tier talent in the offseason. What it requires is a total buy-in, which I believe Erik Spoelstra has mostly received. But it is difficult, and largely leaves you circling around .500 beyond riding the waves. Basically, with this talent level, the Heat are just about where they should be -- with a chance to still go as high as No. 4, but most likely to open on the road and have to scramble to get through to the second round. But when you look at Thursday's box score, that's basically who they are: one player with a big night -- in this case Hassan Whiteside with his 26 points -- and then no other player with more than Dyane Wade's 16. But just about everyone who played managed to contribute something, including Bam Adebayo, despite only scoring two points on 1-of-5 shooting, with his stout defense against Joel Embiid.

Q: Rodney McGruder deserves playing time. -- Karon.

A: You could also make a case for Luke Babbitt. But it is difficult enough creating playing time for 10 players, let alone 11 or 12. I believe there still will be games that will allow for an extra perimeter player such as Rodney in the rotation, likely at the cost of one of the big men. Against the 76ers, Erik Spoelstra instead opted for minutes for Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk as well as Bam Adebayo, so something had to give. The depth likely will come into play with foul trouble or injury. Otherwise, it was obvious that Spoelstra had to work Wayne Ellington back into Thursday's mix. And there yet could be times when Babbitt's 3-point shooting will be needed. The question is whether he can enter cold, at the end of a game, and make a 3-pointer, as James Jones used to do. For now, though, Spoelstra can talk all he wants about "getting lost in the sauce" with so many options, but you simply cannot play a cohesive 12-player rotation in the NBA. So something and someone has to give.

Q: Why can't the Heat petition for a redo for the game against Wizards like they did for the Hawks game a decade ago? -- Jorel, Tampa.

A: Because only a rules misapplication allows for a replay, and even then it is rare. In the case of the Hawks game that was resumed in the final seconds -- not replayed -- it was because the scoring crew, the Hawks' home scoring crew, said Shaquille O'Neal had fouled out when he, in fact, only had five fouls. In the case of the Heat's overtime loss in Washington on Tuesday night, a five-second count is not a reviewable play, nor is the judgment of a no-call on the play the NBA postgame report said should have sent Kelly Olynyk to the foul line in a two-point game. What I will say is this: 24-second violations and eight-second backcourt violations are both determined electronically. So why not have an electronic five-second clock, as well, to take the human error out of the equation? Do any two human beings count to five in exactly the same time?

March 8, 2018

Q: What happened to James Johnson? He is just resuming his journeyman career. And now for the James Johnson question: Why didn't the Heat see this coming? -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: My thought is that Justise Winslow happened, and Josh Richardson happened, and Dion Waiters happened at the start of the season and then Dwyane Wade is happening right now. What made James Johnson unique last season was his ability, as a power player, to take over a game with the ball in his hands. At the start of the season, Erik Spoelstra seemingly did everything in his power to keep Johnson and Winslow in separate parts of the rotation. But even then, Waiters was looking to grow as a player. And, all the while, Richardson began to emerge as a player worthy of a higher usage rate. And now, Dwyane is doing the same. So where it used to be five good and one bad on-the-ball plays last season, with the touches down this season, it more often can be one good play, one bad play -- the type of ratio that had Johnson viewed as a journeyman until last season's breakthrough. So you could have said the Heat should have seen this coming, but that also would have meant seeing Winslow, Richardson and even Wade coming. It's a different role for James Johnson this season.

Q: Justise Winslow is best at doing the "little things." Why does he insist on doing things way beyond his capabilities? I get that the guy is playing a bit better, but during the game against Washington, he tried to go one on two against Washington in transition and wound up turning the ball over. Sometimes simplicity is all that's required, and it's almost as if Justise is trying to prove he's a future All-Star. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: He is trying to prove he is a future All-Star, believes he can be a future All-Star. And I'm not sure that anyone should be telling a 22-year-old, third-year player that he cannot be an All-Star. That doesn't mean that Justise ultimately won't be more of a complementary piece, such as a Tony Allen type. And there's nothing wrong with that, either. But, yes, he does try to do too much at times, do things that expose some of his lack of athleticism and skill. But the Heat staff have mostly put him in position to succeed. And I would believe that the moments that you cite are being discussed in private with the coaching staff.

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Q: I don't like the way Hassan Whiteside is playing, but at the same time, I think Erik Spoelstra and his assistants have failed the guy. Many times he looks lost out there. They really don't know how to use him. And he is talented, a total shame. -- Pito.

A: The Heat have decided that the system is bigger than the player, which is why Hassan has had to move his game to the elbow and become more involved in the dribble-handoff approach. To me, that is telling. When you have a player that you believe is a superstar, you construct a game around his skill set, as the Heat have done for Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The fact that the staff is asking Hassan to fit in, rather than design a game to his skill set, speaks volumes.

March 7, 2018

Q: It makes no sense how Bam Adebayo is out of the rotation. This is how you kill a rookie's confidence right here. -- A.B.

A: This is way beyond rookie confidence or development or even ego stroking. This is about trying to win every game possible. So if you believe that Erik Spoelstra could have better positioned the Heat for victory by playing Bam more on Monday or Tuesday, then calling for more of him is reasonable. But if you believe Bam should have played because of confidence or development, well, that ship has sailed for the season.  If anything, you might have a case for Spoelstra staying too long with Whiteside at the start of Tuesday's second half. But there clearly is a comfort zone with Kelly Olynyk at this stage as a closer. And when Spoelstra had to do something when Olynyk was called for his fifth foul, he turned back to Whiteside in overtime. Based on how the past two games have played out, the rout of the Suns and then the epic road effort in Washington, I'm not sure it's the right time to examine rotations. As it is, Bam already has received a healthy dose of NBA experience no matter how it plays out for him from here. Is it fair? No. But this is the NBA and the only thing that's fair is establishing the best road map toward victory. At least for the Heat. At least at this juncture.

Q: Ira it's time for the Heat to commit long term to Justise Winslow. He could be an All- Star in a few years from now.-- Daniel, Miami.

Q: Ira, how can Erik Spoelstra trust so much in Justise Winslow, even in the final minutes? He couldn't guard Bradley Beal. -- Ricardo, Brazil

A: I included these two questions together because they came one directly after another in the "Ask Ira'' mailbox on Tuesday night, showing seemingly how polarizing all things Justise can be. And even in the loss to Washington, the play was wildly fluctuating. At times, he was the spark the Heat desperately needed. At other times, he tried to do too much and left the Heat at a deficit. What I keep coming back to is this: Justise turns 22 on March 26. He would be a college senior if he spent four years at Duke. So I would say that he is a work in progress, a player who has to further hone his skills while ridding himself of the shaky moments. Basically, his career could go either way, with the toughest decision being the one the Heat face when it comes to the Oct. 31 deadline to extend his rookie-scale contract.

Q: They're stashing Derrick Jones Jr. for big plans next year when they'll need a bunch of minimum-contract, talented guys. -- C.M.

A: It only it were that simple. The Heat have a lot to figure out when it comes to their backcourt going forward, with no elements more challenging than what Dion Waiters will look like when he returns and how the Heat are going to handle carrying Tyler Johnson as a $19 million player. But if the Heat are going to have those two in the mix and bring back Dwyane Wade, then, absent a trade of Goran Dragic, the wing already is going to be a bit crowded, when also factoring in Josh Richardson at the start of his extension and the returns of Rodney McGruder and Justise Winslow. Yes, low-priced talent always is of benefit, and Jones certainly is intriguing. But there also has to be room at the inn. And if Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk all are back, it's not as if it will be easy to work in substantial time with small lineups. Based on contracts, the Heat could be down to two open roster spots for next season, with both essentially in the power rotation, to replace Udonis Haslem and Jordan Mickey.

March 6, 2018

Q: Pat Riley said over the weekend, "The old mantra was use eight, rotate seven, play six and trust five. And I always knew who my five were. And I think Coach knows who his five are going down the stretch." My fear is that Erik Spoelstra includes Justise Winslow in his trusted five. As was the case last year, the Heat's best stretch of the season was when Winslow was out. My own "trusted five" would be: Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, and, going with my gut, Rodney McGruder (though Josh Richardson is right there, and Tyler Johnson are not too far behind). Who do you believe is on the list that matters, Spoelstra's trusted five? Also, who would your own trusted five be? I had to waffle a bit, so you may find it hard, too.  Which brings up the last question: Can Spo truly get it down to five? -- David.

A: I still believe, because of the versatility and uniqueness of this roster, and when taking into account player matchups, that this team is not built to only rely on five closers -- or really any single five-player group at any time. And that is part of the problem, that there are not enough of those star-type players who make such a decision easy. It is interesting that Pat Riley has created a roster that is so different than the ones he coached. So, no, I do not have a single five-man closing grouping any more than I believe Erik Spoelstra does. You could have a defensive closing group of Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Justise Winslow, Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson. You could have a small-ball closing group with James Johnson at center. And you could have a big closing group with Whiteside and Bam Adebayo. In fact, limiting yourself to a definitive closing five would defeat the purpose of this roster.

Q: Ira, with the way things are lined up now, if the playoffs started today, Miami would play Toronto. Even though they are the No. 1 seed, it certainly seems more appealing than playing the Celtics or even Cleveland. So, unless the Heat can make a jump to the No. 4-No. 5 seed, they may be better off not climbing up that ladder. The only potential negative is if they advanced, they would be on the road from there on out, regardless of the opponent in the next round, or later (not happening). That aside, the No. 8 seed may be the best position for the team. -- Matt.

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A: First, I don't think the Heat can be choosy and even necessarily control their situation, since there still is a possibility of a team such as the Bucks backing down to No. 8. But I do agree that once the Cavaliers get Kevin Love back they are a different animal, one that Heat have struggled to contain in Cleveland. So while I'm not saying the Heat would necessarily win a series against any of the East's three top seeds, I believe there is a better chance to extend a series against the Raptors and Celtics.

Q: Can the Heat afford to take Luke Babbitt out of the lineup? -- Mike.

A: I didn't know at first if this was sarcastic or not, but Luke basically kept the Heat afloat with his first-quarter 3-point shooting Monday, and there is something to be said about going into a game with ample spacing. The problem is that Babbitt was inserted as a starter when Bam Adebayo was at his grandmother's funeral. And I can't see keeping Bam out of the rotation simply because Luke is making threes. So there remains plenty for Erik Spoelstra still to figure out with his power rotation.

March 5, 2018

Q: Ira, you noted Erik Spoelstra opting for Hassan Whiteside at the end of the Pistons game instead of Kelly Olynyk because of rim deterrence. I think that is where Bam Adebayo comes in.  Kelly and Hassan are too slow to play together.  But Bam and Kelly form a good pair, Kelly for offense, Bam can cover the rim on the defensive side. In the future, Bam will help in those moments. -- John.

A: I agree that Bam is somewhat of the universal donor in the power rotation because of his ability to defend on the perimeter, including switches against scoring wings. And I agree that he delivers the type of rim deterrence that Kelly lacks. But keep in mind that in today's small-ball NBA, having Bam alongside Kelly in the lineup would often mean having Bam away from the rim, defending on the perimeter, and away from such deterrence possibilities. That is the double-edged sword of being a big man who can defend on the perimeter. I'm still not sold that, in today's NBA, there is an effective way to play two players at the same time who essentially are centers. This goes back to Steve Kerr's thought that there are only centers and wings in today's NBA, and that power forward is a position from another era. So it comes down to whether you can comfortably play two centers at the same time. I'm not sure that Erik Spoelstra is sold on that one.

Q: Ira, I believe that Derrick Jones Jr. has a possible high ceiling (having seen his raw talent and fearlessness). If properly developed (and with Dwyane Wade as a possible mentor), do you think he could have a more prominent role in the Heat's future? I believe if developed he could serve as a future starting two guard with Josh Richardson as a future starting point guard. -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: It will be interesting to see how the Heat handle Derrick going forward, including potentially converting his two-way contract to a standard NBA deal that includes some type of team option for next season (which would mean releasing a player from the current 15-player roster, perhaps Jordan Mickey). By doing that, it would allow the Heat to continue to seek ways to offload Tyler Johnson's onerous contract (if even possible). If Dwyane Wade returns next season, it would give the Heat another season to groom Jones. With the Heat likely without a draft pick this June, it would make sense to take on a draft-like project for the offseason.

Q: Is this the result of battle scars with having to deal with the three major egos and personalities in the Big Three? Has Erik Spoelstra become the alpha-dog tamer? -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

A: This goes back to my Sunday column, about how the Heat this season lacked an alpha dog until the arrival of Dwyane Wade. First, I believe Erik Spoelstra embraces such personalities, as he did with Dion Waiters and James Johnson last season, as he did two seasons ago with Hassan Whiteside. In each case, either through injury or diminished play, each has lost that edge. I believe Erik Spoelstra would relish nothing more than a player whose bark could match his bite and inspire teammates with his aggression.

March 4, 2018

Q: Important win over Detroit, but if every Heat player played their A-game every night they would be unstoppable. But just to get two of them to is a challenge. -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: That's who this team is, how it was built to be, how it will have to be. The sexier side of the box score Saturday was the Pistons half of the ledger, with Blake Griffin with his 31 points and Andre Drummond with his 22 points and 18 rebounds. And the Pistons lost, just like they've been doing rather often lately. The Heat's side of the box score, was more balanced and less noteworthy, save, perhaps, for Hassan Whiteside's 19 rebounds. But the Heat won. And that's how this roster shakes out. Put aside the salaries and there mostly are 10, 11, 12 interchangeable parts, perhaps more, considering Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Bam Adebayo didn't play Saturday. With this team, it often has to be about quantity instead of quality. And there was enough volume of solid contributions. Now, how does that shake out during the moments of truth in the playoffs? It certainly makes the equation more difficult. But when you hear that a bunch of Heat players played well, it often means that they won. That was the case Saturday, no one with more than 17 points, but six with at least 11.

Q: Ira, do you think the Heat will cut ties with Jordan Mickey, I could think of a few names that could replace him Derrick Jones Jr., Derrick Rose, Terrence Jones, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson. We have great depth but we could always add another player to our team. -- Daniel. Miami.

A: Considering even as shorthanded as the Heat were Saturdaythat they didn't call on Jordan says something about how significant he is to the overall picture. Of those you mentioned, I would consider converting Derrick Jones Jr.'s contract to a standard NBA contract, in place of Jordan Mickey's roster spot. It would allow Jones to then become playoff eligible, plus it would be a good-faith indication to show that going forward the Heat take care of their two-way players.

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Q: Ira, Kelly Olynyk has turned out to be a great pickup this season. He's tough and plays a good game on both sides of the ball. -- Mike, Austin, Texas.

A: And yet you also could see how his limitations have Erik Spoelstra walking a fine line. For as essential as Kelly's contributions were Saturday, the lack of defensive deterrence at the rim and rebounding had the Heat rushing Hassan Whiteside back for the finish against the Pistons. And that's the thing about the Heat's versatility -- just about every component has a flaw that creates if/or deliberations for Spoelstra.

March 3, 2018

Q: Is it possible that Dwyane Wade will be the starting lineup again? Dwyane has proven to everyone that he deserves to be the starting lineup. -- Sam.

A: Among the reasons that Dwyane did not start Thursday with both Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington out is because that is not the reason he was brought in. He was added, in the injury absence of Dion Waiters, to provide late-game scoring options as a potential closer. So why burn his minutes, at 36, at the start of the game, when, at this energy-conserving portion of his career, he is so much more essential at the close of the games (surprisingly essential)? If anything, I could see Erik Spoelstra going with Rodney McGruder or even Derrick Jones Jr. as a starter if both Johnson and Ellington remain sidelined for any substantial period. Dwyane was as closer is far more significant at this stage than Wade as starter.

Q: Should James Johnson start instead of Justise Winslow? Playing on the second unit with Dwyane Wade isn't working. D-Wade is becoming the primary facilitator of that unit instead of J.J., who needs to handle the ball more to get into rhythm. -- Fabian.

A: But Winslow also is better with the ball in his hands, with Wade now holding Winslow's former role as de facto point guard with the second unit. What Erik Spoelstra and the Heat laud as versatility might instead actually be redundancy. Winslow and Johnson simply might be a case of two players with only one such role available. While the two essentially might be involved in a job share, it matters which is the one that shares with Wade -- and if that even is viable. Rather than pare his rotation, Spoelstra has opted, for now, to pare minutes. In this case, less could be more.

Q: Do you think other players around the league are noticing how quickly Miami has gotten Dwyane Wade back into shape and how it's causing him to perform at a much higher level than in Cleveland? Is that something that interests players or will that be overlooked?  -- Ryan, Port St. Lucie.

A: Actually, with all the Heat training staff has done with players over the years, I believe this is a case of Wade wanting to prove doubters wrong after such an uneven start to the season with the Cavaliers. And I'm not sure the Heat training staff would believe credit is due yet, with Wade still seemingly a bit away from preferred Heat conditioning.

March 2, 2018

Q: Ira, with the recent buyout of Shabazz Muhammad, do you think he is someone we may look at using the injury exception from Dion Waiters on? Shabazz looks like he could fit the mould of miscast player that could potentially be turned around in the Miami system. -- James, Newcastle, Australia.

A: Two reasons drive a player toward a buyout: 1. The opportunity to play deep into the playoffs as a showcase for a next contract. 2. The assurance of playing time as a showcase for a next contract. Based on where the Heat stand, I don't believe they would be attractive for either reason. First, there is no guarantee the Heat will make the playoffs. Second, the rotation is so muddled that you have someone like Luke Babbitt who was added at the trading deadline and has barely played. It is looking increasingly, as the Heat attempt to sort out their own injuries and rotation, that the interest in or the appeal of a buyout could be minimal, even with that $5.5 million exception to expire in two weeks. Now, if the Heat knew definitively that one of their rotation players was going to be out for an extended period, that might be different. I think the Heat are looking at Rodney McGruder as their buyout-deadline addition, without the cost of an extra payout. But remember, as long as a player from another team is waived by March 1, he can sign any time before the final regular-season game and still be playoff eligible. Of course, a team has to get into the playoffs for playoff-eligibility to be a factor.

Q: I miss the fourth seed Heat. -- Kyle.

A: It sure seemed as if roles, playing style and commitment were better defined at that moment than at this moment. In a league of adjustment, it appears to be the time for the Heat to do so again. Saturday's game against the Pistons will be significant, in terms of head-to-head and multiple-team tiebreakers.

Q: Now Justise Winslow has to perform or he will be replaced by Rodney McGruder. -- P.H.

A: For the moment, the Heat merely are in survival mode when it comes to the starting lineup (which tends to be overstated, anyway). The problem with removing Winslow from the starting lineup is that it then puts him in the second unit, where the Heat already have the ballhandling and playmaking of Dwyane Wade and James Johnson. When it comes to McGruder, it will be a matter of earning his way back into the starting lineup, if that even is possible.

March 1, 2018

Q: Ira, seeing as James Johnson and Justise Winslow are not reliable scorers and are not really tall/long, don't you think it would be better to start Bam Adebayo? He's not looking to shoot, is a pretty good defender, and will give us more size and energy, especially when we play bigger teams. I think our competition will have more problems and Hassan Whiteside is more effective when we have a dual threat in the paint and under the rim. -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: I actually agree that Justise Winslow and James Johnson could lose playing time, but not because of Bam Adebayo potentially moving into the starting lineup, but rather because of the return of Kelly Olynyk following his six-game injury absence due to the strained left shoulder. At this point, it's looking as if Erik Spoelstra will have no choice other than an if/or decision with Winslow and Johnson, with so many other rotation options. But to your point of the Heat playing "bigger teams," there simply are not many of those left around the NBA. Spoelstra showed enough conviction in the Whiteside-Olynyk pairing to play those two together down the stretch in Tuesday's victory over the 76ers, a game Adebayo played just 6:52. Unless both step up their games, Johnson and Winslow likely will find themselves in a job share -- at best.

Q: What is going on with James Johnson? Specifically, he is not looking for his shot or drive this year. He is primarily looking to hand the ball off. Last year, his aggressiveness and skill generated instant offense, hence a big contract.  He had a big rebound against the 76ers, but he looks timid and scared to fail out there.  The Heat desperately need him to score, but he looks like a completely different player than last year.  -- Jason, Hollywood.

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A: Hmm, so we're piling on today? Actually, you are not alone. That's why I did a story about his conditioning and James insisting it was similar to last season, at least when it came to weight and body fat. He also hinted about an injury, but the team has not had anything on their injury report. But you are correct, he is not nearly as explosive a player. He was throwing down dunks during the preseason . . . and then it stopped. So, like many, I do wonder what else is in play. I do not believe he is the type of player, though, who would stop working simply because the money got good.

Q: Hey, how about a second nickname, Flashback, along with Father Prime for Dwyane Wade? -- Celo.

A: I see what you did there . . . and like it. Sort of taking Flash to the next generation. So if you don't get it trademarked, at least you can have evidence here that you came up with it.

February 28, 2018

Q: Ira, does Tuesday's game give the Heat more confidence in close games or does it have them back to getting Dwyane Wade the ball and getting out of the way? Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside each only scored three points in the fourth quarter. Is that a winning formula? It's a good win, but why can't Erik Spoelstra find a way to get more offense out of Dragic and Whiteside? They are supposed to be our best two players. I know, I know ensemble cast, and I love D-Wade, but I feel like these two should/could be more aggressive. -- John.

A: If it would have been Dwyane instead of Goran, or if the finish had come in the absence of Hassan, that would have been one thing. But this time Spoelstra made sure to have Hassan on the court for the finish, even if it meant playing alongside another big man, in Kelly Olynyk. And Dragic played 9:21 in Tuesday's fourth quarter, compared to 8:34 for Wade. So it's not as if those two were shoved aside. You should always -- always -- play to the hot hand. And that hot hand was Dwyane. What Goran and Hassan have to do is be ready for when it is their time. This was not a case of Spoelstra pushing aside those who were in place before Dwyane's return. And with Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington sidelined, it's not as if he was offered many other options.

Q: I doubt Kelly Olynyk starts for the reminder of the season, because if he does there is not a spot for Justise Winslow. They're hoping for Winslow to stay consistent at power forward and Rodney McGruder hopefully starts at shooting guard. That's a defensive-minded lineup with Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside. -- H.L.

A: And I believe that Kelly is more effective off the bench with the change of pace he can deliver. With Tuesday practically another no-show for James Johnson, it's almost as if it will come down to a case of playing either Justise or James, Between the two, they were a combined 0 for 4 on Tuesday night. Such performances will make it easier for Erik Spoelstra to go with Olynyk for longer stretches. Tuesday might already have opened a window about who will play less now that Kelly is back.

Q: Our cursed team was fully healthy for 20 min before someone else bit the dust. -- J.Z.

A: And with Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington two of the Heat's best 3-point threats, they need both. The Lakers will be a challenge on Thursday, let alone the showdown Saturday with the Pistons. The next 48 hours will be telling. The good news is the comfort that Rodney McGruder had stepping into Tuesday's 3-point conversion, even after he struggled from beyond the arc in his two-game G League rehab stint.

February 27, 2018

Q: How can the Heat perform consistently when they mix and match constantly all season long and never let units grow and perform consistently together (yes, I know, injuries . . . but this has been the coaching M.O. every year since LeBron James departed)? -- Patrick, Coral Springs.

A: Because the essence of this roster that Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg, Adam Simon, Nick Arison and Erik Spoelstra built is exactly that, a group of versatile, interchangeable, position-less players who can be mixed and match as needed. Even now, we're not sure how Kelly Olynyk and Rodney McGruder will fit into the mix, as we approach 20 games remaining. I have no issue with that aspect. The only issue I would have is this: players being grandfathered into playing time based on expectations instead of productivity. After 60 games, you should have an idea of who and what each player is. If you don't, then perhaps it's more on the player (or coaching staff) than the front office. Remember, even now, whatever combination the Heat come up with for the balance of the season, it won't necessary be the combination going forward, with Dion Waiters to be added back into the equation next season.

Q: The Heat needs to win this year, so that the pick sent to Phoenix (via the Goran Dragic trade) is a non-lottery pick. However, the Heat own their own first-round pick for next season. That said, at the end of this season, if the current team proves to be mediocre, do you think the Heat could enter a full rebuild? It could trade expensive, older players for draft picks this offseason, then aim for the lottery next season, while allowing the young players to develop. I know Pat Riley doesn't want to lose at this age, but sometimes you need to take a step back, in order to take two steps forward. Good young players would also help entice a whale, something this current roster has been unable to do. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: First, the Heat have stressed, and I tend to believe, that they would never intentionally play for future seasons at the cost of a full season (now, getting into a bad place, as the team was  in 2008, is another story). But I'm just not sure how many of the current deals can be offloaded, especially with such limited cap space around the league. First, teams would have to see Dion Waiters back on the court. They would have to see a more productive James Johnson. And just about the only way anyone would be taking on Tyler Johnson would be by offloading their own salary-cap distressed property (take my Joakim Noah, please). About the only way to get to where you are pointing would be to deal Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. I guess that could be possible, but such a white flag is not necessarily the type of true colors the Heat prefer to fly.

Q: Between Justice Winslow and Derrick Jones Jr., I'd take Derrick Jones Jr. all day, every day, both as to their current abilities and future promise. Surely the Heat see that too. Is it as simple as they refuse to admit drafting Winslow 10th was a mistake? At best Winslow is your 12th to 15th player project. He should not be playing right now. -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

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A: Nah. If that was the case then Derrick wouldn't have been toiling in the G League, available to any other team to sign before the Heat got him to agree to such a limited-money two-way contract on Dec. 31. I do accept that Justise never will be as spectacular as Derrick, so it comes down to whether the preference is functional or dynamic.

February 26, 2018

Q: In many ways, the Heat's current roster -- a reasonable total level of talent, but short of superstars -- offers the greatest challenge to the coach.  Other coaches know that their top players -- say John Wall, Bradley Beal and  Otto Porter for the Wizards, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka for Toronto,  Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston, and Russell Westbrook and Paul George in OKC -- have to get the bulk of the playing time, and the reserves must make up the balance.  The Heat is not that simple, Erik Spoelstra has to maximize the talents of all eight to 10 players he wants to use. There are fewer obvious choices and more options.  Which brings up the related question: The remaining games are crucial for Heat and Hassan Whiteside in particular.  Can someone,  anyone, motivate him to play up to his potential/capabilities either to solidify the position of the franchise, on the one hand, or to enhance his value in a possible trade which might give the team some much-needed cap space?  Either way, he's got to do better than he has. -- H.S.

A: Yes, he does. There was a point before the Heat began this rapid-fire round of four games against the 76ers, with the third of those games coming up Tuesday, that some considered Hassan and Joel Embiid to be a fair fight. Now we know different. But that can be fine, too, as long as there is dominance against the next tier of big men. Lately, even those such efforts have been limited. There was a point when the question came to the Heat's best player, the answer came to Hassan. That now seems like a long time ago.

Q: The crazy thing about Justise Winslow is that he doesn't build off these good performances. -- David.

A: And that's the thing, to be a starting player in this league there has to be a degree of consistency. No, no one is expecting Justise to become a 20-point scorer, but there has to be a comfort that there at least will be double-digits on a nightly basis. Now, if the consistency comes in other areas, such as defense or rebounding, that's fine also -- it just might not be fine enough to remain locked into the starting lineup. And do not overstate anything from Saturday's victory over the remnants of the Grizzlies. All the Heat did in that one was prove they could rout a G League roster. That arguably will be the worst starting lineup they face this season.

Q: Ira, with the exception of Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and maybe Kelly Olynyk, who on this roster will be a significant contributor in two years? My point is there is a lot that will need to be done to get this team back as a contender. -- Mike, Southwest Ranches.

A: I found it interesting -- and telling -- that you did not include Hassan Whiteside. The fact that so many already are talking about him in the past tense speaks volumes of how quickly the mighty has fallen. I still believe that more can be drawn out -- and that there is a certain obligation from the team to try to do so. Even if the endgame is an offseason Whiteside trade to further be able to showcase Adebayo and Olynyk, you still want to go into such a possibility with Whiteside's value high. It seemingly only has been knocked down to this point.

February 25, 2018

Q: Finally, man. It's almost like the Heat get comfortable after winning a few and start giving up games until they realize they're on a losing streak. I think Erik Spoelstra should force the players to look at the Eastern Conference standings before every game so they will play hard every night. -- Willy.

A: He does and they do. There is not a player in that locker room who does not appreciate how dire it got after losing eight of nine,  just as they appreciate having 14 of their final 22 regular-season games at home. Look, Saturday was  practically meaningless. Memphis arrived as a lottery team bent on losing. The Heat essentially got  a bye. The next three games will offer a far more telling window into the possibilities of a true turnaround, starting Tuesday against the 76ers, then Thursday against a Lakers team with no reason to tank and then Saturday in a showdown against the Pistons. The Heat didn't just need a win Saturday, they needed it to be the start of a winning streak.

Q: Just what the doctor ordered, home cooking. -- Stuart.

A: But that had been the problem, that home hardly had been a refuge for the Heat. And I still would not overstate Saturday night, considering the Grizzlies set out with a rotation designed for defeat. Now, if the Heat can back it up on Tuesday night against Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the 76ers in the second game of this five-game homestand, then it would create a bit more comfort about playing at AmericanAirlines Arena. To even consider anything more than a No. 8 playoff seed, the Heat have to be looking at at least 4-1 on this homestand, and that's after essentially opening with a bye Saturday night. The telling games on this homestand will be Tuesday against the 76ers and Saturday against the Pistons.

Q: A season-high 17 points for Justise Winslow. Nice game for him, but if 17 is a season high it tells you something, as well. He needs to build on this and score 15 plus every game if we are to play him from here on out. -- P.M.

A: I, too, was surprised that it hadn't been better than that for Justise this season, considering the opportunities he has received. And, yes, I appreciate that scoring is only part of the equation. Beyond that, Saturday was nothing more than a glorified G League game, against an opponent bent (and succeeding) on losing. What the Heat need are these types of contributions, be it as a starter or off the bench, against teams such as the 76ers and Pistons.

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February 24, 2018

Q: I love Dwyane Wade, but come on, why is he taking every shot in the clutch moments? Sure he can hit a few here and there, but he's not Flash anymore. I would have much rather had Josh Richardson or Goran Dragic taking those shots. -- Justin, Colerain, N.C.

A: Not going to lie, had to do a double-take when I saw Wade took 20 shots Friday night, which was his high for the season. Look, he made a pair of significant baskets in overtime, but those were attempts in his wheelhouse, a 15-foot fadeaway and a 13-foot floater. But the 22-foot shot at the end simply has not been his shot. Granted, playing in transition only leaves so many options, but Goran Dragic had made both of his overtime attempt, already had 30 points, is the team's All-Star. This transition still is a work in progress, but Wade as a decoy can be a boost, as well. Goran and James Johnson had stepped up late and probably were deserving of more. The one element of this comeback we'll never fully know is whether the Heat would have considered making a call for Wade had the Cavaliers not contacted them first.

Q: The Heat are now four games behind seventh place in the loss column and only one game over .500. The best they can now probably hope for is eighth place and are showing no improvement over last year's .500 team.  This season is looking like a major disappointment unless things change quickly.  The players are the players, so who is more to blame Erik Spoelstra or Pat Riley? -- Joel.

A: Before blaming Spoelstra or Riley (with both certainly fair game amid this predicament), first ask this: Does this Heat roster have a talent level comparable to the seven teams ahead of them in the East? If you believe so, then also consider that 15 of the final 23 games are at home. So there certainly remains the chance of the 45- or 46-win season that most would have accepted as a tangible jump. Even with eight losses in the last nine games, I think you need to take stock over this coming five-game homestand before rendering 2017-18 judgment.

Q: We're barely hanging on here. If we miss the playoffs again, do you think Erik Spoelstra's seat starts to get at least a little warm going into next season? He's earned a lot of leeway, but three of four season out of the playoffs isn't a great look.  -- Sal, Miami.

A: Three seasons out of four out of the playoffs would be the second worst stretch over the franchise's 30 seasons, so certainly someone above Spoelstra's or Riley's status likely would insist on some sort of review. For now, it hasn't reached that point for the Arisons (I don't believe). And, again, the schedule affords plenty of opportunity to turns all these frowns upside down. Still, I believe the Heat would enter any makeover in a better place with Spoelstra and Riley as the faces of the franchise. Who else would you prefer in a room with a free agent?

February 23, 2018

Q: Ira, there have been multiple reports in the past months and up to this point that Kawhi Leonard is "disgruntled" and could be headed for a potential break up with San Antonio. Do you see Pat Riley preparing in advance for that potential scenario, like Golden State did with Kevin Durant? Maybe Dwyane Wade plays recruiter? -- Mialles, Boston.

A: First, Kawhi is not an impending free agent, so the ultimate decision on a possible destination is not in his hands (for that matter, if he were a free agent, the Heat would not have the needed cap space). If the Spurs decide that there are irrevocable differences, they would immediately be flooded with offers. And if a team does move on from a player such as Kawhi, the goal generally is a replacement star. But, for a moment, let's play along that Leonard actually can force the Spurs' hand, as Paul George did with the Pacers. That still had Oklahoma City parting with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. I'm not sure the Heat have anything as enticing to offer (even if Bam Adebayo were a piece). I just don't see Gregg Popovich moving for a Hassan Whiteside. And the Spurs already are moving past Tony Parker, so Goran Dragic's appeal would be limited. About the best I figure the Heat could offer would be some sort of package with Adebayo, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. I would figure that the Spurs would have proposals far more tempting. As for Dwyane recruiting, I'm not sure that would hold much sway with a player such as Kawhi.

Q: Why not go after Derrick Rose with the $5.5 exception? Can he help the Heat make a playoff run? With the Heat history of reclamation projects, I think we should take a chance on D-Rose. -- Octavas, Hollywood.

A: I'm not sure that after the acquisition of Dwyane Wade that there is as much of a need, nor have we seen much from Rose in recent seasons. But it could be intriguing if Derrick were willing to move to a second-tier playoff contender. That also would mean moving someone out of the rotation, at a time when Rodney McGruder is returning. You are correct that the Heat have had a way with reclamation projects. But keep in mind that the $5.5 million exception granted for Dion Waiters' season-ending ankle surgery only can be utilized on a one-year deal.

Q: Where do you think this battle with Hassan Whiteside is going? It's obvious that Erik Spoelstra is trying to motivate or punish Whiteside by not playing him at crunch time, but I think it's costing them long term. From what I see, it's causing fractures between him and his teammates, too. They don't even look at him and choose to play hero ball which hurts the team. Who's the biggest looser the Heat or Whiteside? -- Carlos, Miami.

A: I'm glad you asked this, because I believe there is something significant to clarify here. In no way do I believe that Erik is looking to "punish" Hassan. Erik may be stubborn at times, but he is not pretty. When Spoelstra sits Whiteside in fourth quarters it is because he genuinely believes that other options that provide the best chance for victory. It's not about "getting" Whiteside; it's about getting victories.

February 22, 2018

Q: I've always said Rodney McGruder is our X-factor, so I think it all depends how he plays after his return. He grabs rebounds, defends the best opponent and is pretty consistent with his threes. He's our energizer bunny. -- Sarge.

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A: Or at least he was before his leg surgery. So we first have to see, in real game action, where he stands. And then there is the Part B of the equation. Before Rodney was sidelined, Josh Richardson was being viewed as little more than an equivalent talent, Wayne Ellington was being viewed solely as a 3-point specialist and Dwyane Wade was being viewed as a Cleveland Cavalier. The roster and the rotation have changed since Rodney went down. And that means the chemistry might have changed, as well. All of that is why the sooner the Heat can get Rodney on the court, the sooner they can get a sense of his place going forward.

Q: Hello Ira, if the Heat miss the playoffs this season again, will Erik Spoelstra yet again be allowed to escape any questioning? As apparently when it comes to the Heat, it's always the players fault, and never ever the coach's fault. -- Javier, Doral.

A: That debate comes down to whether you believe that this Heat roster has more talent than at least one of eight other Eastern Conference teams. I am sure you would agree that Toronto, Cleveland and Boston have more talent. I'm assuming you would agree that the Wizards, Bucks and 76ers do, as well. So it comes down to this when it comes to the playoffs: Are you convinced that the Heat have more talent than both the Pacers and Pistons? If you see those teams as more talented, then missing the playoffs could be a matter of coaching a team to the level of its talent.

Q: We need to lose a lot of games I think, because our pick is top-seven protected. I would love to make the playoffs, don't get me wrong. But to lose in the first round is not worth it. We need to get that one more piece and I feel like somebody like Trae Young or Miles Bridges. Do you agree? -- Devin.

A: Neither on your players or your premise. First, the race to the bottom is unlike anything I can recall in recent years. It's as if nearly a third of the league wants their fan bases to trust the process. So there is that. Even if the Heat do not win another game, it is possible that the Suns, Mavericks, Kings, Grizzlies, Hawks, Magic, Nets and Bulls don't match the Heat's current 30-win total. So holding on to the pick that otherwise goes to the Suns would be highly unlikely, with the Heat unlikely to be able to muster anything better than a No. 9 playoff seed, thereby needing quite a bit of lottery luck to move into one of the first three picks to protect their selection for 2018 (and thereby lose their 2019 first-round pick to the Suns). But if the Heat do (bottom out) and can (get some lottery luck), I would be more likely to lean toward DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley or Luke Doncic under the best-available-player premise. But it is a discussion that is moot. That approach over these final 24 games with be playoffs-or-bust. Period.

February 21, 2018

Q: What do you anticipate is the next personnel move to move this team into contention? -- Sherif,  Miramar.

A: While the acquisitions of Dwyane Wade and Luke Babbitt did not dramatically move the needle at the trading deadline, part of that reality is that the Heat did not have much to move the needle with, lacking first-round picks or even cash to throw into a trade. Similarly, the equity the Heat now lack is sufficient currency in the playoff race to entice a buyout acquisition. The last thing a player on a non-contender would want is to give up salary in a buyout only to wind up on a team that misses out on the postseason. That well could leave the Heat moving forward with what already is in place. The key now likely will be maximizing the current roster. And a key to that would be getting Kelly Olynyk back as soon as possible. Even in the losses in Toronto and Philadelphia, you could see how Olynyk could have made a difference.

Q: Why did the Heat apply for that $5.5 million exception for Dion Waiters' injury and not use it? -- Sandy.

A: First, there still is time, with the exception not to expire until March 12. But what does not accompany the exception is an additional roster spot. Beyond that, if it is not a player who can crack the top nine, then the Heat already plenty of players to fill those playing slots. So would you bring in someone to play in place of Dwyane Wade? Luke Babbitt? Justise Winslow? As much as anything, what the exception might do is buy the Heat another month of injury insurance. There was no downside of applying and being approved. But, as stated above, a buyout player likely is not going to look toward a team that could miss the playoffs. That sort of defeats the purpose of a buyout in the first place.

Q: Ira, you have written on more than one occasion that the Heat did not draft Devin Booker because they had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and that Justise Winslow made better sense for them. If that's true, why did the Heat let Wade go, especially given the fact that they had no replacement for Wade? They cannot attract any big names, which makes them overpay for inconsistent players and they have a terrible track record for drafting players, i.e., Michael Beasley, Shabazz Napier, Winslow. Do you think maybe it's time for Pat Riley to retire and replace Erik Spoelstra? I don't expect you to address my questions, but I thought I would try. -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: First, if the Heat kept Wade, do you believe that at his age the past season and a half would have been demonstrably different? At some point you have to move on, try another approach. As for Riley and Spoelstra, I would say this: The Heat have missed the playoffs three times in a four-year span only once in the franchise's 30 seasons, and that was the team's first three seasons. So if there are no playoffs this season, then I would anticipate a top-to-bottom inspection from Micky Arison and Nick Arison, as is their right.

February 20, 2018

Q: I understand the lack of minutes for Hassan Whiteside, considering the contributions from and development of Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. However, it doesn't make sense to have a max player who doesn't play 30-plus minutes per game. It also gives the perception that the Heat are not enamored with Hassan's play. If the Heat opt to trade Hassan during the offseason, I would think the lack of playing time hurts his trade value -- not only does it create a negative perception of Hassan, from a team who knows him better than anyone else, but it also brings down his overall statistics -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: To get to the crux, no, they clearly are not enamored, or at least Erik Spoelstra isn't. but part of that, perhaps a major part of that, is also on Hassan. What he should be doing is making himself an irresistible, unstoppable force, one who forces you to play him for extended stretches, the player we seemingly have not seen since the victory in Dallas. Yes, you could argue he is being tested by the composition of the roster and by a coach who chooses to turn into other directions. In fact, if he truly believes that he is not being maximized, that he would receive a better shake elsewhere, then that should be motivation, as well, to make others want him more than perhaps the Heat do at the moment. A Hassan Whiteside who plays with a fury could totally flip all of this narrative. He still has that power.

Q: Ira, why would LeBron James come back to Miami with their present roster and most players locked up for several seasons, and with Dwyane Wade a shell of what he used to be? If he wants to stay in the East there are so many better teams talent-wise. -- Joel.

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A: He's not. But the fact when ESPN polled 48 players about what they thought might happen with LeBron that they even mentioned the Heat shows that, at worst, the Heat remain relevant in players' consciousness. Basically, the NBA players polled still consider the Heat a desirable landing spot. And that is a good thing. But I cannot fathom, as you pointed out, the Heat having enough on their roster to attract such a level of free agent. There was a time when I thought Hassan Whiteside could have been such a lure, but with his role minimized, I don't see that as the case anymore.

Q: Ira, your Sunday column was your best article of the year. We often speak about players needing to find another level or gear and the same expectations need to be made on Erik Spoelstra.  His maturation in his role as head coach has been amazing to watch.  He needs to put his together his list of the best eight maybe nine players for each night for opposing teams, which will leave some players on the bench.  The team has to also be told and embrace these actions.  Egos need to be checked at the door. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale

A: Erik has established camaraderie with his players and a solid rapport in the locker room. But sometimes tough decisions have to be made. It could be sitting Winslow one game, Wade another and perhaps even one of his big men (Whiteside, Adebayo, Olynyk) another. It could be no James Johnson. Or it could be that the train already has left the station when it comes to Rodney McGruder. But first we have to know about Olynyk's shoulder strain (and if that's all it is).

February 19, 2018

Q: Watching these All-Star events reminds me of the blown opportunities with our last two first-round draft picks to select guys like Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell, who both were drafted after the Heat's selection. -- Mialles, Boston.

A: Not true. Donovan Mitchell was selected at No. 13 last June, with Bam Adebayo going to the Heat at No. 14. Yes, Utah did leapfrog the Heat to trade up to No. 13 to select Donovan, but at the cost of the No. 24 pick and Trey Lyles going to Denver. An equivalent deal for the Heat would have been something like dealing their No. 14 pick and Justise Winslow (selected two picks ahead of Lyles in 2015). Because the Heat lacked another first-round pick, I'm just not sure they would have been poised to make such a move (or would have felt justified at the time). As for Winslow over Booker, it again is important not to create revisionist history. When Winslow was drafted, it was at a time when the Heat had, featured, and planned to continue to feature, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He set up as the better fit at the time than Booker. Times change, so do forecasts. I believe the Heat will be fine with Adebayo. As for Winslow, that comes down to expectations. But let's also wait to see Booker win something other than a 3-point contest.

Q: Did you notice when Dwyane Wade had the ball in his hands in the games against the Raptors and 76ers, some of the guys like Wayne Ellington and Josh Richardson, to name a few, were standing around instead of trying to cut to the basket? Good offense comes from movement. The ball isn't going to go far if guys are just standing around leaving Wade Isolated at the top of the key. -- Richard, Tallahassee.

A: Yes, noticed it, and what teammates have to notice is this is not the same Dwyane Wade who, as recently as the 2016 playoffs, helped the Heat within one game of the Eastern Conference finals. This is, however, a player who still can find open teammates and maximize their possibilities. So some of this also is on Erik Spoelstra to make sure the player movement continues, that the dribble-handoff mindset does not cease simply because Dwyane has entered the game.

Q: Are the Heat better with Dwyane Wade and Luke Babbitt trades? Yes. Is it enough to make a big difference? No. If the Heat want to compete for a championship, bigger trades will have to occur in the offseason/next year. -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: Neither Dwyane nor Luke (certainly) change the overall dynamic. This team will succeed only if Hassan Whiteside plays hard all the time, if Goran Dragic plays at something close to All-Star level, if James Johnson can somehow recapture last season's form, if Dwyane Ellington can succeed against defenses now scheming against him, and if Josh Richardson continues his dramatic growth curve. If those things happen, it will minimize the impact of both Wade and Babbitt. Ninety percent of the Heat's issues, if not more, will continue to revolve around players on this roster before the trading deadline. In fact, within days it is possible that the Heat's biggest midseason addition turns out to be Rodney McGruder.

February 18, 2018

Q: Don't want to pin blame on Justise Winslow, who's a nice young man with lots of promise for sure. But facts are facts, and the Heat seems to do better when he's out due to injury than when he's on the active roster -- both last year and this.  He's got talents, but even a skilled coach like Erik Spoelstra has failed to fit those talents into the pattern of play that suits the remainder of the roster.  Winslow will probably blossom, but it is likely to be with some other team, some other style, some other coach. -- H.S.

A: I do wonder if Justise's career arc will be similar to that of Ted Ginn Jr., who was viewed somewhat as a failed No. 9 2007 pick by the Miami Dolphins (one pick before Winslow was selected in the 2015 NBA draft) and then went on to be viewed as far more productive in ensuing stops with the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers. Basically, it was a case study that when the expectations of being a high draft choice no longer were attached, the contributions were viewed differently. As for the more immediate concern, it will be interesting when Kelly Olynyk returns to see where Justise will slot into the rotation especially with Dwyane Wade being slotted in as a the backup point guard. So while benching Justise certainly never would be cast that way, when Rodney McGruder returns, it is possible that Erik Spoelstra could be faced with such a decision. Because it will come down to these questions: Playing Winslow or James Johnson as a backup power forward? Playing Winslow or McGruder as backup small forward? Playing Winslow or Wade as backup point guard? Playing Winslow or Wayne Ellington as backup shooting guard?

Q: Hassan Whiteside gets stats. I have seen when he is really engaged and focused he is a force. But that being said, I mostly see a lackluster, nonchalant attitude that makes it looks like Whiteside is not interested or focused. I would love to see more energy out of him he can and be a monster every day. -- Juan.

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A: Here's the thing: body language matters and I would hope that Hassan would come to accept such a reality. I often focus on Hassan when he's off the ball or even off the court, and you are correct, there are times when it is disheartening when it comes to energy. That's not to say he doesn't care. But, as mentioned in the question above, which didn't even get into Bam Adebayo as an option at power forward, this roster is so loaded in depth that the approach should be -- perhaps has to be -- playing with every last breath. There is no reason not to. And that should mean and engaged and energetic approach at all times.

Q: Any word on whether Miami will pick up Derrick Jones Jr.'s two-way contract?  -- Brandon

A: There's nothing to pick up. He remains under contract to the Heat for the balance of the season, only now with a six-day limit on the remainder of time he can spend in the NBA before the conclusion of the G League season. Unless his contract is converted to a standard NBA deal, though, he would not be eligible for the playoff roster.

February 17, 2018

Q: We need Kelly Olynyk back as soon as possible. I feel that Olynyk is what's missing at the moment. The other night, our bigs were flat on the boards, screens, and passing, but when Olynyk is playing, his intensity is there, and subconsciously I think it keeps the other four in that frame of mind. The ball is sticking in hands, and Olynyk would make sure to look to pass. -- Aristotle, Sydney, Australia.

A: Agree. Olynyk had emerged as a go-to presence in fourth quarters, often sparking the offense when either play sets broke down or fatigue set in for others. That's why it will be curious to get a read on his shoulder strain when the Heat resume practice Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Not to understate issues the Heat were developing even before Olynyk went down, but considering all of the Heat's close losses, a bit of Olynyk could have put the Heat over the top against the Raptors and 76ers, and, if he wasn't hurt in the game against the Magic, perhaps in better shape against Orlando, as well. But that also can't be an excuse, considering the 76ers were without Joel Embiid and the Magic without Aaron Gordon and both still found a way to beat the Heat.

Q: Ira, so many say Hassan Whiteside isn't like Bam Adebayo because Bam can pass out of the post. But am I the only one who thinks he passes out of the post too much? Way too often the guy is constantly looking for dribble handoffs instead of using his size and athleticism to draw fouls. -- Victor, Miami.

A: That actually is more of a factor with Hassan. Basically, when Hassan was sidelined, the Heat moved to the dribble-handoff approach to maximize the skill set of Kelly Olynyk and also take advantage of Bam's athleticism and decision making. And it worked. The problem is it hardly is the most effective game for Hassan, which I believe had contributed to the drop in his statistics and minutes. At this stage, I can appreciate limiting the approaches with Adebayo as he settles into the NBA. And by basically creating a five-out approach with more opportunities to take advantage of the short roll, it also maximizes the Heat perimeter players.

Q: Ira, the Heat play well against the Raptors.  If they can hold on to the eighth seed that may be better than finishing higher. -- Joel.

A: Two things here: First, the Heat are in no position to get creative with the standings. As the saying goes, just get in, baby. Second, with the Cavaliers rejuvenated at the trading deadline and with the Celtics considering lineup changes, I'm not sure that there will be any clarity about the top seeds until far closer to the end of the season. The irony is that the Heat's season finale is April 11 against the Raptors at AmericanAirlines Arena.

February 16, 2018

Q: There are two ways to motivate. Positive reinforcement for behavior you want to encourage. Negative reinforcement for behavior you want to discourage. It is generally accepted that of the two, positive reinforcement works better in the long run. However, you should at least try one of the two. With Hassan Whiteside, Erik Spoelstra uses neither. If Whiteside is doing great, he sits. If Whiteside is doing poorly, he sits. It doesn't even seem to matter when the team is doing poorly with Whiteside on the bench, Whiteside still sits. The message seems to be: I don't care how you play, I just don't like you. How does that possibly get the best out of anyone? -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: If you'll recall, it was Jan. 29, after the victory, when Hassan Whiteside dominated in the victory over the Dallas Mavericks, that he spoke of his hour-long meeting with Spoelstra, how the two had cleared the air. Since then, the minutes have been limited, even after Spoelstra mentioned the need to play Whiteside and Bam Adebayo together more often. The most troubling element is that the latest limited minutes have come with Kelly Olynyk out, further opening time in the power rotation. It would have seemed that once the trading deadline passed, another meeting of the minds would have made sense. Instead, the lasting impression going into the All-Star break was Whiteside sitting in the locker room in Philadelphia discussing the desire for more minutes after the break. It's as if it's Kevin Loughery-Rony Seikaly 2.0.

Q: Ira, the blame for this team's troubles has to be spread among more players than just Justise Winslow. I'd be more concerned with the lack consistency of Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside. They will be taking up a much larger portion of next season's payroll and they have far more to do with our recent string of losses. We don't have any draft picks coming up, Justise's defense is elite, he's young, and his salary is relatively cheap.  What do we have to lose by trying to develop him more? We're not going to get anything for him trade-wise.  Worst case, someone steals him in restricted free agency. -- John.

A: You make cogent points. And I agree this is far more than about Justise. In fact, you basically have gotten to the crux, that what had made the Heat so successful over the second half of last season was the consistency, knowing what you were going to get from each roster component. To a degree, the Heat know exactly what they're going to get from Justise. But they seemingly don't know, from night to night, with Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and some others on this roster. Until there is consistency, these wild swings in the standings might become the norm.

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Q: Instead of moving the ball for the better shot now they are looking to pass it to Dwyane Wade. -- Jose.

A: And this is always the concern when you bring in a player that, while still respected as a star, is not the same player as at the top of his game. To his credit, Dwyane also is among the best players on this roster, if not the best, at creating scoring opportunities for others with his playmaking. But just as the Heat succeeded during the best of times over the second half of last season and then the run of success in January, the focus has to remain on ball movement, going from good to better to best with shot attempts, and not looking for any individual to carry the load. Perhaps that is where this eight-day All-Star break will help, the Heat able to move on from the stunning image of Wade walking back through that door.

February 15, 2018

Q: With Dwyane Wade's return, it was said that minutes would be down for other players. In my opinion, those minutes have come at the expense of Justise Winslow. Before Wade's return, Winslow effectively served as the backup point guard, but that spot has been delegated to Wade. So where does this leave Justise? -- Ji.

A: Here's what has to happen now: For as much as has been made about the Heat's depth of talent, you can only play so many players. And, more importantly, you have to play them in the positions that allow them to succeed. What the Heat need coming out of the All-Star break is this . . . all bets are off. Play the players who check off the correct boxes, and if that means hurting feelings, so be it. If it means no Winslow, then don't get caught up in potential or draft pedigree; save that for another day. If Dwyane Wade doesn't fit a certain game's style, then he doesn't play at all; even if it means a tough decision with a franchise icon. If Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo are playing well, and providing needed rebounding, then play both, even if it means shorting others on minutes; that's what a coach does, is find a way to make it work. Yes, there could be ensuing questions about humbling a player, perhaps even leaving him embarrassed. So what? This has gotten beyond that. This. Team. Cannot. Afford. To. Miss. The. Playoffs. If that first-round pick to the Suns turns into a lottery pick (protected for the Heat only through No. 7), then the entire reason for this season goes up in smoke. When the Heat reassembles after the All-Star break, player feelings have to be taken out of the equation. The best players, the best fits, the best contributors play. Everyone else? Deal with it. Erik Spoelstra doesn't need friends. He needs victories.

Q: Something is terribly wrong with this team. Too many third quarter collapses. This team does not seem to be prepared to play after halftime. Is it players or coaching? We can't keep dancing around this problem. -- Gregory.

A: It is emotionally weak players, that it only takes a 3-pointer or two for the confidence to wane and then disappear. It is one thing to fight from behind, with nothing to lose, as the Heat did over the second half of last season. It is another to maintain a position of strength amid adversity. Perhaps this roster simply lacks the strong minded. We're about to find out over these remaining games.

Q: Justise Winslow is killing the team. Same last year. When he was out last season and this season, our team is well above .500. -- P.M.

A: It has gotten to the point of getting beyond a limit sample size. It will be interesting to see what happen when the talk of winning plays does not translate into winning games.

February 14, 2018

Q: I see Erik Spoelstra starting Justise Winslow to get him some minutes, because if Bam Adebayo starts then Winslow would barely play, with Dwyane Wade being the backup point guard. I hope Justise takes advantage of this. -- Omar.

A: Which makes you wonder what Justise's role will be when Kelly Olynyk returns. Prior to Olynyk's absence, Winslow had served as the primary ballhandler when Goran Dragic was out. I would assume that Erik Spoelstra will break out a spreadsheet and reformulate during the All-Star break. Of course, there is no guarantee of when Olynyk will return. And if Winslow can play as a somewhat reliable 3-point threat then it could be James Johnson who potential gets squeezed, let alone Luke Babbitt. Johnson, though, had a bit of a revival Tuesday, at least in the first half. And that doesn't even get into Rodney McGruder's impending return. Olynyk would make the current rotation 10 deep, with McGruder making it 11, which seems a bit unmanageable. On one hand, you still want to try to maximize Winslow's possibilities. On the other hand, from a evaluation perspective could it be time that the Heat already know what they have.

Q: It seems like the Heat give up the most points at the buzzer. For example, that Kyle Lowry shot at the end of the first half ended up being the difference in the game. This is especially frustrating with so many Heat games coming down to one or two possessions.--- Jorge, Tampa.

A: Because the Heat predicate their success on defense, and, to a degree, slowing pace, they rarely take the two-for-one approach at the end of quarters. Lowry, by contrast, "walked the dog" for one 3-pointer late in the second period, with enough time left in the half to get that second 3-pointer. That was a six-point swing right there. I do not understand why the Heat decline to play by the same math.

Q: I'm Australian and more than happy that Goran Dragic got the All-Star nod over Ben Simmons. That guy in parliament is an embarrassment and has no idea. Don't let it get you down, Dragon. We love you Down Under. -- Nathan.

A: Got a bunch of these from many either in or from Australia. When you get down to it, who doesn't like Goran Dragic? (And after what happened in EuroBasket, who doesn't like Slovenian basketball?) If not for Goran on Tuesday night, it wouldn't have been  a game in Toronto. He did just about all the heavy lifting for the Heat, which sorts of defines an All-Star.

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February 13, 2018

Q: Chaos will break out when Dion Waiters returns next year. How do you solve this problem? -- Jim, Miami.

A: That's making a bunch of assumptions, starting with one that Dwyane Wade will continue playing next season at 37. Beyond that, you're assuming that Dion Waiters will be back for the start of next season, with his timetable following ankle surgery still unclear. Then there is the composition of the Heat roster itself, with a draft, free agency and offseason trading period intervening. For that matter, we still don't know if the Heat have the wherewithal to re-sign Wayne Ellington or how they would feel about going into the luxury tax to achieve such a goal. For now there lone goal has to be making the playoffs, so the first-round pick due the Suns from the Goran Dragic trade doesn't turn into a lottery selection for Phoenix.

Q: Brandon Jennings to the Heat would work. What do you think. He said he would do a 10-day contract. -- Charles.

A: But even that would require opening a roster spot, which the Heat currently lack. So would you cut Jordan Mickey, or, dare we say, Udonis Haslem, to open a spot for Jennings? For now, Dwyane Wade appears to slot in as the backup point guard. To me, the greater concern is a backup point guard who can defend fleet opposing point guards, an assignment Wade appears to be beyond. An argument could be made that the Heat already have such a candidate in their pipeline in Briante Weber, but, again, that would require opening a roster spot. For now, I would expect Wade to be the backup point guard when offense is needed, with Justise Winslow possibly getting that role on the defensive end, when possible.

Q: Regardless of where the Heat end up this season, although we want to play as long as possible, Heat fans have already won this season with Dwyane Wade back home in Miami.  LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Wade and such sports icons don't come around that often.  Enjoy every game because, Dwyane Wade has treated fans to unbelievable basketball over the years. In earlier years, you would walk out of the arena going, 'Did I just see Wade do that?'  He made the impossible possible.  That message is powerful. -- Stuart.

A: But the message can't continue to be one of nostalgia. That was fun and fine for Friday's return against the Bucks. But there is a season to be played, games to be won, a playoff berth to be achieved. Those three all have to be the priorities over a nightly dose of nostalgia. I do wonder if that will put Erik Spoelstra on a tough spot.

February 12, 2018

Q: This two-center approach is highly situational, right? Can't imagine it for long stretches against small, fast lineups. -- Daniel.

A: To me that comes down to the range of Bam Adebayo's perimeter defense. If he is capable of defending stretch fours or even dealing with bigger small forwards (dare I mention LeBron James?), then there is little reason to keep him off the court. As Pat Riley has mentioned of Erik Spoelstra's approach, position-less is about the offensive side of the floor. You still have to be able to account for all the necessary defensive responsibilities. The thing is, I believe Bam just might be able to handle the perimeter defensive assignments, as well. Who knows, perhaps he emerges as the Heat's non-Greek freak? Tuesday's matchup against the Raptors in Toronto is an interesting example: Why not start Adebayo against Serge Ibaka and Hassan Whiteside against Jones Valanciunas? I'm not sure the Heat are necessarily sold on Justise Winslow as their starting power forward going forward.

Q: What do you think Luke Babbitt's role will be going forward? I was surprised to see Justise Winslow starting at power forward and thought with Kelly Olynyk out right now that Erik Spoelstra would've started Luke. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: The Heat went nine deep without Babbitt in Friday's victory over the Bucks, and that was with Kelly Olynyk not available. So Babbitt in means someone who had been a rotation player would be out, because you simply can't go 11 deep on a regular basis. In the end, with such a meager cost (with Okaro White already injured), Babbitt might wind up as nothing more than injury protection either for a protracted absence by Olynyk, or should Justise Winslow or James Johnson go down. But it also could be that James Johnson officially is now on the clock when it comes to getting back to something closer to last season's form.

Q: I feel bad for Josh McRoberts. There was great potential with the Heat. I hope he gets and remains healthy. -- Bruce.

A: Two factors soured Josh McRoberts' tenure with the Heat. First and foremost it was the injuries. He almost never was right. But the second factor was losing sight that he was brought in to space the floor as a stretch four. Instead, it's almost as if he got so caught up in being a playmaker that he lost sight of the basket being his friend. I almost wonder if the best option might be a career reset in Charlotte, where Steve Clifford maximized his game.

February 11, 2018

Q: Ira, now that we were unexpectedly able to bring back Dwyane Wade at the trade deadline, do you still believe that it makes sense for the Heat to pursue another veteran point guard coming out of a buyout between now and March 1, if nothing else as a possible insurance policy? If so, whose roster spot would likely be taken? -- Mike, North Miami Beach.

A: Those require separate answers. First, this is where the recent five-game losing streak hurts. Had the Heat been able to remain in contention for third in the East, at least poised for potential homecourt in the first round, I think they would have been a far more attractive destination. For example, there is a reason the Rockets proved so enticing to Joe Johnson and Brandon Wright -- the likelihood of competing deep into the playoffs. I'm not sure the Heat are poised to offer that at the moment. As for the Heat opening a roster spot, usage would suggest Udonis Haslem's spot. But there is no way, after bringing back Dwyane Wade, that Haslem is going anyway (as if he was already). So what you have to ask with any buyout candidate is this: Would/could he do more for the Heat than Jordan Mickey? Ultimately, that would appear to be the only disposable roster spot, and I'm not sure I would necessarily classify it as that.

Q: Ira, it seems that the offseason will be interesting when it comes to signing Dwyane Wade. The Heat would appear to have a fair amount of leverage in future discussions, no? -- Jason.

A: With Dwyane telling NBA TV that this will be his final NBA stop, it seemed like a concession of minimum salary going forward. The last thing the Heat need is to have to consider spending their mid-level exception or any other exception on Wade, with this roster still with enough question marks. I also would think that any agreement would have to be on the year-by-year plan. But this is all getting ahead of ourselves, without first seeing how this next two months play out. Dwyane  has now earned in excess of $180 million just in NBA salary. I would find it hard to believe that money could be a factor going forward.

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Q: Ira, isn't Dwyane Wade's return to the Heat the most surprising, astonishing, strangest thing that you have had to cover over the 30 years of writing about Heat basketball? -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: No, that was LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh coming together with the Heat during 2010 free agency. You could almost see this coming, with the way the Cavaliers had struggled. Even LeBron's Heat departure in 2014 was somewhat foreshadowed. That 2010 offseason was one of the most stunning in NBA history -- just ask Dan Gilbert.

February 10, 2018

Q: The Heat may have too much depth, and it could be an issue moving forward. When Kelly Olynyk and Rodney McGruder come back, we will have 11 guys (maybe 12 if Luke Babbitt joins the rotation) that need to get minutes. How are guys supposed to get into a rhythm when there are so many mouths to feed? This may be detrimental to the development of our young guys, especially Justise Winslow. -- Kyle.

A: First, that is a good problem to have, one Erik Spoelstra will have plenty of time to sort out during the impending All-Star break, which is one of the benefits of the new, early NBA trading deadline. And, as I've writing in this space recently, this season is beyond development. This is about getting into the playoffs and  potentially making noise in the playoffs. I think you will see Spoelstra moving to more of a matchup rotation, potentially different reserves against different opponents, beyond the core players. Friday was the perfect example of a big lineup working against the Bucks' height, allowing Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo to play in tandem. In other games, it might require a host of athletic wings. And now, with McGruder, Winslow even James Johnson and Josh Richardson, you can field late-game defensive lineups. It will all work as long as there is an across-the-board buy-in when it comes to everyone accepting being part of an ensemble. To me the questions are not about the rest of this season, but rather what happens when Dion Waiters is adding to the mix if Dwyane Wade stays around. For now, victory has to be the collective priority. On a roster still lacking in star power compared to so many other East contenders, this still will require multiple contributions, similar to what the Heat received Friday night.

Q: Ira, guess you were right, we needed a backup point guard. Obviously Dwyane Wade isn't really a point guard, but a little of his veteran play making went a long way Friday. He may not be the Wade of old, but a veteran with his championship confidence is exactly what this team needed. -- John.

A: But I'm still not sure it answers the question of how to defend the fleetest of point guards, such  as John Wall, or others that Wade, at his age, still could struggle against. I still believe in those situations you still will see Josh Richardson or Justise Winslow as the defensive options. But I do see Wade as being able to settle the offense as a playmaker. As with the above answer, I believe so much will be situational going forward.

Q: Any idea how long Kelly Olynyk will be out? Until after the All-Star break you think? -- Josh.

A: The Heat, as is their way, are not offering anything beyond day-to-day updates. But I think you're on the right track, since after these next two games, on Tuesday in Toronto and Wednesday in Philadelphia, there is a nine-day break. In fact, during that intervening period also could be when Rodney McGruder will return. So I certainly could see Erik Spoelstra utilizing that as a re-starting point. Or perhaps it's more than something minor, since the Heat did go out with their move for Luke Babbitt.

February 9, 2018

Q: Ira, don't get me wrong, I love Dwyane Wade. But this is not 2006 Dwyane Wade or even Big Three Dwyane Wade. Is this, and Luke Babbitt, enough to get the Heat into a high playoff seed? -- Donald.

A: First, I'm not sure a high playoff seed is necessarily in the cards, considering how much stronger the Cavaliers got at the trading deadline and where the Celtics and Raptors stand. At this point, it's just about making the playoffs and making sure that the June first-rounder due to the Suns from the Goran Dragic trade doesn't turn into a lottery pick (it's only protected for the first seven selections). It will be interesting to see where the Heat go from here, considering they not only still hold a $5.5 million salary-cap exception from Dion Waiters' season-ending ankle surgery, but also their unused mid-level exception. The problem is the Heat also have run out of roster spots to the point where they don't even have one for Derrick Jones Jr., with the NBA days on his two-way contract dwindling. With Dwyane Wade taking the A.J. Hammons roster spot, the Heat would have to get creative to bring in another player. It is possible they could open the Jordan Mickey spot, but I could not fathom them waiving Udonis Haslem. But there are several intriguing possibilities expected to come free on the buyout market, with some dealt players already waived. So this might not be over yet -- if the Heat opt to create roster flexibility.

Q: Ira, so, does this flurry of trade activity and the nearing return of Rodney McGruder mean the heat will roll out the  Goran Dragic-Rodney McGruder-Luke Babbitt-Hassan Whiteside starting  four from last year? The starting rotations have not inspired confidence recently, and that  pairing did well over a reasonable sample size. -- Darius.

A:  From that standpoint, you sub in Dwyane Wade for Dion Waiters and you basically have what you had for much of the second half of last season. But this is about far more than the starting lineup. This is about who gets shoved aside. Assuming a return to health of Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington, by adding in Dwyane Wade and Luke Babbitt, your basically squeezing someone else. So is that Tyler Johnson? Is it Justise Winslow? Is it James Johnson? Does it mean again reducing Ellington to a specialist? More is not necessarily always better. For Erik Spoelstra, the work only now begins.

Q: Does this mean there is a chance for LeBron James next? -- Len.

A: No, it does not. If anything, this was a divorce, of sorts, between the two, with LeBron prioritizing winning in Cleveland over playing time for his friend with the Cavaliers. For all of the options that LeBron James has going forward, I would think trying to make it work with this revised  mix in Cleveland or exploring the opportunities with the Lakers would be the priorities. What the Wade move could do is bring Chris Bosh back into the fold in some potential manner, obviously not as a player, but perhaps to be back around Wade and Udonis Haslem.

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February 8, 2018

Q: It doesn't matter who they're playing. This team is bad, with a lot of average players with bad contracts. Pat Riley needs to make a big trade and build for the future. -- Brandon.

A: But it does matter who the Heat are playing, because they clearly are not, at this stage, built to beat teams such as the Rockets, nor should a victory on Wednesday night against Houston have been expected. The maximum upside of this roster was contending for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs, in other words being good enough to contend for fourth place. The way you do that is by winning the games you are expected to win. If this season comes to a thud, it's not because of games such as Wednesday's, but rather the two losses to the Magic, the two losses to the Nets, and the losses to the Kings, Bulls, Hawks and Knicks, especially the ones at home. Those are the bites at the apple you never get back. All of that said, in a season when the expectation never was -- or never should have been -- title contention, you don't trade based on this season. You trade based on the future. That means working through the youth of the roster, and possibly dealing older players. And at the moment, that could mean Goran Dragic.

Q: The reality is if we can split until the All-Star break we are good, Okaro White and Rodney McGruder and good health, we will make playoffs. With 30 games left, all is not lost. -- Randall.

A: And no one is saying it was or it is. But to avoid being .500 at the break, it means winning at least one of: Friday at home against the Bucks, Tuesday in Toronto, Wednesday in Philadelphia. None will be easy, but the next game has to be a priority, especially to go into the All-Star break with some semblance of a good feeling about playing at home, where the majority of games will be after the All-Star break. I agree that McGruder and White will help, but they won't help where the Heat most need help -- scoring points. Until the Heat become more than an all-or-nothing team with 3-pointers, it will remain a grind.

Q: I thought Spoelstra said he would play Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo together more. -- Ted.

A: And then Kelly Olynyk went down with his shoulder injury and the available options in the middle dwindled. I would expect him to try to get to that when Kelly returns. Of course by then, the Heat well could be going through another lineup dynamic, in this never-ending series of twists and turns this season.

February 7, 2018

Q: Trading Justise Winslow for Tyreke Evans would be an incredibly short-sighted mistake. I'm almost in disbelief that it's being floated around. Tyreke Evans has been great, but he doesn't come with Bird Rights and it's almost a certainty we won't be able to re-sign him. The desperation Pat Riley has shown to make the playoffs and maybe win a series has led to very questionable decisions that would probably had gotten general managers and presidents fired, i.e., signing league journeymen to hefty contracts, matching Tyler Johnson's contract, keeping Hassan Whiteside when it's clearly time to move on and potentially moving a 21-year-old lottery pick (full of potential) for a few months of Tyreke Evans. What is going on? -- Kevin.

A:  First, everything at this stage, until completed, is just rumor. I do believe there are scenarios where moving Justise would make sense, but most are, as posited yesterday in this space, more about having to utilize Justise as a "sweetener" in a deal in place of the first-round picks that the Heat lack, be it to offload Tyler Johnson's salary, augment a potential Hassan Whiteside trade or serve as part of a bigger overall package. I agree that you don't give up on a player who still has one more rookie-scale season on his deal for a three-month rental. That said, a scorer such as Tyreke Evans is what the Heat could use for late-game situations in the injury absence of Dion Waiters, so he would make sense, at the right price, as a rental. But you often, with patience, can find similar rentals on the buyout market before that March 1 deadline for playoff eligibility.

Q: I think Bam Adebayo has clearly earned minutes in the rotation, but I don't begin to understand Erik Spoelstra sitting Hassan Whiteside so much. There is a lot of talk about how Spo finds ways to win. I think he also finds ways to lose. I don't think there is another coach in the league who would leave a guy like Hassan on the bench. He'd never comment publicly, and rightly so, but what do you think Pat Riley is thinking while he's watching yet another game slip away while Hassan watches from the bench? -- Brian, Mount Vernon, Wash.

A: I'm not in any way suggesting that Pat Riley was involved, but it was curious Tuesday how forthcoming Erik Spoelstra was about needing to find a way to play Hassan and Bam together more often. One of the most unique aspects of Spoelstra's coaching tenure has been designing schemes to maximize the talent on his roster. He did it last season with a bunch of journeyman veterans; he did it prior to that with the Big Three. Both Adebayo and Whiteside deserve to play, and not at the cost of the other's success. But the question remains whether, in today's NBA, you can effectively win with dual center-like players. I guess we're about to find out.

Q: I don't know what Pat Riley plans for this team. I honestly think he did overpay these guys. He trusted on being able to get rid of these contracts if it didn't work and now he is stuck with them. -- Pito.

A: Obviously with Dion Waiters' ankle surgery, that potential trade option is out the window. And with James Johnson's play, a deal for him would appear highly unlikely. So the question becomes whether the Heat believe they can win, going forward, with those two. If that is the case, then you have to move others to make it work with them, since they clearly are not going anyway. That will make Thursday's trading deadline particularly intriguing.

February 6, 2018

Q: Ira, it seems that you get as much questions about Justise Winslow as you did for Michael Beasley. Your recent comments on the team not knowing what he can be are right on point. I'll go a bit further, though. Winslow is an OK role player whose play won't lose you games, but won't really win a game for you on his individual play. We need to stop worrying about the eighth or ninth player on the team. Yes, he starts sometimes, but it's normally due to an injury. I think I'd take Beasley over Winslow. -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.

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A: First, there is nothing wrong with complementary players. And that's what Justise was drafted as, to develop behind Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and then see what develops. This is why the NBA gives teams time to decide on rookie-scale extensions, with the Heat having until Oct. 31 for such a decision on Justise. That's what makes the balance of this season so important, to see if there is leading-man talent there or whether his future will be more as a complementary player. The difference is that because of the rookie scale, the Heat have time for such judgments, as opposed to the all-or-nothing decisions this past offseason with James Johnson and Dion Waiters. My hunch is that if the Heat believe Justise will evolve into a complementary player that they then might seek trade options, either by Thursday's deadline or the offseason. With his low salary, Winslow stands as the ultimate sweetener for the Heat as part of something potentially bigger, perhaps as the means to offload Tyler Johnson's remaining salary.

Q: Is Goran Dragic an All-Star, or the best player on a good team without an All-Star? -- Nate.

A: Yes. He's an All-Star because Eastern Conference coaches had him ninth on their list of reserves and two other reserves were injured (John Wall, Kevin Love). And, yes, he's the most reliable player on a team that has spent most of the past month among the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference. All-Star selections long have been about team success. Do the 12 best players in each conference make the All-Star Game on an annual basis? Rarely. And such selections, particularly among the final selections, often come down to respect beyond the current season. Eastern Conference coaches, I believe, recognized Goran as much for what he has accomplished in his career as for what he has achieved this season.

Q: Dwyane Wade is my favorite Heat player of all-time. LeBron James is a free agent. Let's say LeBron leaves Cleveland. What do you think Dwyane Wade's future has in store? I can't see him staying there without LeBron. Is it time to finish this season and retire gracefully? -- Jon, Vero Beach.

A: Dwyane is in Cleveland for one reason, and once that one reason leaves, there is no long reason for him to stay. So if LeBron does leave Cleveland after this season -- and that is mere speculation at this time -- I believe Dwyane will move on. Does that mean moving on to retirement? Perhaps. But I could also see him moving on to play with yet another friend, which could be alongside Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, or perhaps even LeBron in another destination. As for the Heat, that could create an uncomfortable decision for Pat Riley if he also has to find rotation time for Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow and a returning Dion Waiters.

February 5, 2018

Q: If no trade is made by the deadline and the Heat have that $5.5 million salary cap exception they received for Dion Waiter's injury can they later fill a perceived need with a buyout player utilizing that exception money and possibly then buy out one of their own players like an A.J. Hammons to make room on the roster ? If they can, then if there is no trade to be made by Thursday's deadline, I guess we get to see if Rodney McGruder's return is enough in the short run to lift this team. -- Mike, North Miami Beach.

A: Touching on your last point first, I think Rodney McGruder can't do anything but help. He is that type of player, willing to do anything and everything to contribute. But he also is not a go-to scorer for late-game situations. As to your first point, I do believe the Heat will scour the buyout list, which could be particularly interesting this year with that deadline moved up two weeks, leaving more than three weeks before the March 1 buyout deadline. (To refresh, players on current NBA rosters must be waived by March 1 to be eligible for another team's playoff roster. They don't have to be signed by their new team by then, but must be released by that date).

Q: Ira, yes we lost the last three games we should have won, but another question is how many close games have we won that we could have easily lost?  By my count we could just as easily be three to five games under 500.  Point is, most Heat wins/losses are coming down to final few possessions and screams out the need to trade for a player who can dominate and score when needed. We've seen far too many leads squandered with horrendous shooting for nearly a quarter's worth of play. Now with all these close games, game in and game out, the Heat especially of late have look tired at the end of games. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Because you either are a go-to scorer, have that mentality, or you wind up in something less than attack mode, as we saw with James Johnson at the end of the game in Cleveland. Yes, sometimes the plays, themselves, can make the difference, as we saw with winning baskets by Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington last month. But sometimes they also can be snuffed out, as was the case at the end against the 76ers. The Heat's margin, as you point out, is razor thin. That's where Dion Waiters mattered last season and where a Waiters-type stopgap could matter this season.

Q: What I was wondering is if Justise Winslow has the potential to be in a Draymond Green-type role. I feel like he is too elite of a defender to be just a "regular player." Watching him in games, I think he has the potential to be that all-around player. What do you think? -- Aron, Dallas.

A: What has to come first is delineating Justise's role going forward. With Dion Waiters out, Justise has moved into more of a ballhandling role than expected. But he also has started games this season at power forward. And in the Heat's most recent playoff game, he was the starting center. Now he appears to be slotting in at small forward. Before you can find out who a player can be, you have to decide what that player will be. If the future is as a playmaker, then tightening the dribble could have to be a priority. If the future is to be more Draymond-like, then additional bulk might be in order. At at small forward, there has to be a great scoring threat.

February 4, 2018

Q: James Johnson needs to stay coming off the bench. He had a great game Saturday compared to the games he started. We lost, but he had good effort and was focused. -- D.B.

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A: The lineups and rotations continue to remain a puzzle for Erik Spoelstra because of all the injuries. But with James' preference to be on the ball, it makes sense to have him away from the closest thing the Heat have to a true point guard, in Goran Dragic. The issue then becomes what to do with Justise Winslow, who started on Saturday, which avoided the overlapping skills with Johnson. But here's the real question going forward: If the Heat do decide to open with two big men other than James Johnson, say Hassan Whiteside-Kelly Olynyk or Whiteside-Bam Adebayo or even in an injury absence something like Saturday's Adebayo-Olynyk, then what about when Rodney McGruder returns? He could wind up as the perfect complement to such a big lineup when utilized at small forward, perhaps alongside Josh Richardson and Dragic. Yet, while that all would be well and good, then what to do about Winslow? It just seems as if James Johnson and Justise Winslow wind up as an either-or proposition.

Q: I wouldn't panic because of three losses, but instead of a third or fourth seed, it's possible that we miss the playoffs. -- Marcelo.

A: Which is why the losses this season to the Magic, Knicks, Hawks, Bulls, Nets and Kings were so costly. But the NBA season rarely is about the moment, and more about the entirety of the schedule. That schedule now takes a more favorable turn for the Heat, provided they can maximize homecourt advantage, which hasn't always been the case this season.

Q: We've just lost three games that should have been wins and the race is too tight to be losing. We are going to quickly find ourselves on the outskirts if they don't figure this out. -- Michael, Austin, Texas.

A: Which is sort of how this season set up in the first place, a scramble for playoff seeding. What the Heat have to do is regain is consistency, which is difficult amid myriad injuries. They also have to figure out who and what matter most (yes, I know I'm talking in code there) and we likely will have our truest read on that after the second game of this impending three-game homestand, with the passing of Thursday's trading deadline.

February 3, 2018

Q: We can't score and we roll out the same lineup and run the same plays. -- Wilson.

A: Um . . . yes, save for the late comeback bid at the end of Friday's game. And for Erik Spoelstra it continues to come down to the defense. Look, there is nothing wrong with an identity and primary focus. That is accepted with the Heat. But there has to be something more than what the Heat are calling offense these days. And it wasn't just against the Cavaliers, it also was Friday against a 76ers team entering on a three-game losing streak, before the second unit finally moved the Heat out of their malaise. Just because James Johnson has a solid run at the end of last season as a starter and then signed a four-year, $60 million contract in the offseason doesn't mean he is the best starting option for this team, as configured. It's almost as if Spoelstra is trying to avoid playing Johnson and Justise Winslow in the same unit, with Johnson starting and Winslow coming off the bench. But you can see the need for Kelly Olynyk's shooting and spacing in the first unit. With his reluctance to shoot, Johnson no longer provides such spacing. It all adds up, again, to the need for a scoring upgrade, either from within or perhaps at Thursday's trading deadline.

Q: Pat Riley now has his answer to how the team is doing at the trade deadline. The question is will he ride it out until summer or get a few scoring rentals for now? There's always the thought that eighth is better than staying home in ninth. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: Because of the Goran Dragic trade with the Suns in 2015, the Heat have no choice -- they have to make the playoffs. The Heat's 2018 first-round pick goes to Phoenix unless it is among the first seven. So it won't be like last season, when just missing the playoffs still left the Heat with a Bam Adebayo consolation prize. Miss the playoffs this season, and you're still essentially a spectator at the draft. That nightmare scenario could be enough to push Pat Riley and the Heat front office into action.

Q: The 76ers are better than the Heat, right? -- Max.

A: This season or long term? The Heat's depth of talent might provide a slight advantage this season, with the three remaining meetings to settle that score. But the question I've been tossing out to co-workers has been this: Would you trade the Heat's entire personnel situation for the 76ers? My answer: How could you not, with even if Markelle Fultz doesn't pan out? The only way that even would be a debate would be if Hassan Whiteside could get back to the highest, most-consistent level of his play.

February 2, 2018

Q: I wouldn't mind Iso Joe back. He stunk in the playoff with us, but played so good in them for the Jazz last year. -- Corbs.

A: It certainly is a name that could intrigue, if there eventually is a buyout for Joe Johnson, be it from the Jazz or a team he potentially is dealt to. There certainly have been enough moments where someone with Johnson's reputation as a closer could have come in handy this season, even if just as a decoy, especially with Dion Waiters being sidelined. But again, you would need a roster spot. I believe at least one will come available with the waiving for A.J. Hammons. But should such a spot go to a veteran point guard (as suggested below), a prospect (perhaps Derrick Jones Jr., with the NBA days dwindling on his two-way contract) or a scorer (such as Joe Johnson)?

Q: Ira, it looks as though Chicago is waiving Jameer Nelson as part of the Nikola Mirotic deal with New Orleans. Could he be the answer the Heat have been looking for as a backup point guard? -- A.J.

A: First of all, the Heat have never said they are looking for a backup point guard. That's been more of my prodding than anything substantive on their end. But this is the type of player -- but not this specific player -- that I believe would be quality insurance for the playoffs. As it is, it looks like Nelson will be staying -- at least for a while -- with the Bulls. The delicate part here is not moving too quickly, when other options also could eventually emerge by the next Thursday's trading deadline and in advance of the March 1 buyout deadline (players in the league this season must be waived by that date to be eligible for another team's playoff roster, regardless of when they eventually opt to sign). This is where the Heat's $5.5 million exception for Dion Waiters' ankle injury could come in handy, as could what remains of their unused mid-level exception. But, again, with all this speculation of bolstering the roster, keep in mind that the Heat already are at the NBA maximum of 15, and that doesn't even include the two-way contracts of Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr.

Q: Set me straight, please, Ira. Everyone is crowing about Wednesday night's solid defensive game against Cleveland. I was screaming at the TV screen watching Channing Frye look like LeBron James, in the face of no Heat defensive presence there. Jae Crowder was left open numerous times and scored. On a night when the offense was challenged, two or three of those defensive no-shows could have made the difference. -- Patrick, Coral Springs.

A: You are absolutely correct. And the Heat could not have been much worse defending the Cavaliers' "Elbow Big Curl," which led to layup after layup for Frye off screens from Chicago guards along the baseline. And then there were the 3-pointers from Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver that proved so decisive. And that is why it has to be about more than just the defense. Because if it takes merely two or three breakdowns to swing a game, then you're saying your defense has to be flawless in light of the ongoing offensive struggles. That's why the Heat have to get to something more effective on the offensive end, so they can't withstand such lapses (which are inevitable even from the best defenses).

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February 1, 2018

Q: Ira, please help me understand why Erik Spoelstra continues to go with James Johnson down the stretch when he has been an offensive nightmare and liability. -- Elie, Melbourne, Australia.

A: The James Johnson thing is becoming one of the most confounding elements of this Heat season. He has become so reluctant to pull the trigger that it was apparent he was hesitant even without another option on Wednesday's final possession. Go strong and at least you have the chance of possibly getting to the foul line. Think back to last season, when there was so much confidence from Johnson. There was the play were he attacked just before the buzzer in Detroit and Hassan Whiteside won it with his putback. At least Johnson was definitive on that play. And then there was the game in Washington last season where Johnson won it with his driving finish. He simply exuded confidence in those situations. I don't know if it's conditioning, fatigue or perhaps a lingering ankle issue, but he does not have the same look this season. He was hesitant Wednesday. And the Heat lost.

Q: Hassan Whiteside had gotten all of Cleveland's bigs in foul trouble before being benched Wednesday. Especially after watching what Detroit had done in the paint against the Cavaliers the night before, how can we justify 28 three ball attempts with only four shots from Hassan in this type of game? -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

A: Because attempting to win on defense means matching up defensively as the priority. I cannot argue with the decision to ride late with Kelly Olynyk, who played like a finisher as much as any Heat player Wednesday. But in a quarter where you score only 17 points, it would have seemed like an extra easy basket or two would have helped, or at least he could have gotten to the foul line. The Cavaliers were 7 of 9 from the line in the fourth quarter. The Heat did not have an attempt. So chalk it up as another fourth quarter where Whiteside's minutes total read 00:00.

Q: Based on everything I've read, Pat Riley is playing the trade deadline perfectly. He is being patient, listening and waiting for the prime opportunity. I believe that he wants to trade Hassan Whiteside, but he's waiting for that Godfather offer. In my opinion, the Godfather offer he is waiting for is from the Milwaukee Bucks, as they have been linked to wanting a defensive anchor such as DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside. If the Bucks strike out on Jordan, that's when we will get the offer Riley is waiting for: Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker for Whiteside plus Rodney McGruder or Okaro White. The Bucks are feeling the pressure right now to make a move and Riley is waiting. -- Aaron.

A: And that all comes down to whether you therefore are confident that Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk is enough in the middle to provide and sustain playoff success. But it also likely would have to lead to a Part B, since it further complicated a crowded Heat perimeter rotation, especially when Dion Waiters makes it back next season. But with a Khris Middleton available, there at least would have been another end-game option available Wednesday.

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