Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 4/8/12
MIAMI - Welcome to the Miami Heat laboratory. Erik Spoelstra is working to create the ideal concoction. We won't call the coach a mad scientist since he's hardly talking about blowing up the Heat. But he is doing experiments to find the right combinations as Miami prepares for the playoffs. A 98-75 win over Detroit on Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena proved the ideal time to get out the test tubes. Heat guard Dwyane Wade was out with a minor ankle injury, giving Spoelstra plenty of minutes to look at his traffic jam of perimeter players. And the Pistons, who are hopelessly out of the playoff race, were in no mood to put up much resistance. So Spoelstra inserted Terrel Harris, not long ago a sparingly used reserve who has been getting into the rotation lately, just six minutes into the game and gave him 13 total. He used James Jones, whose playing time has been erratic, for 23 minutes, and Jones responded by tying his career high with six three-pointers in eight attempts. And Spoelstra gave Mike Miller 24 minutes in his first game back after he had missed 14 due to a sprained ankle. With all those guys playing, something had to give. So Spoelstra benched backup point guard Norris Cole, who has been ineffective lately, until the game was no longer in doubt. Cole did end up playing the final 4:32. "A lot of guys are making compelling cases to play but there will ultimately have to be a sacrifice for the team," Spoelstra said. "I hope I have to make tough decisions as we get forward." Jones sure gave Spoelstra something to think about. Yes, he scored all of his 18 points from long range. But any talk about Jones being one-dimensional could be refuted Sunday by his career-high four steals. James' playing time has been up and down all season. Over the previous eight games, he had not played twice and had stints of four or less minutes four other times. But he's making his case to be in the postseason rotation after playing his most minutes in a game in nearly three months. "It was extremely difficult early but I'm starting to get a feel for it," Jones said of playing inconsistent minutes. "I know it's not an indictment on my still level. It's just that I have some great players in front of me." One is Wade. He sat out for the second time in four games after Spoelstra said he tweaked an ankle during a missed dunk in Friday's 97-80 loss to Memphis. He previously had missed a game last Tuesday against Philadelphia due to a knee injury. Spoelstra said Wade's latest injury is not serious. But you've got to figure it provided an opportunity to give Wade, who has looked weary lately, some additional rest and more minutes available for Spoelstra to experiment. "Certain guys play better with certain lineups," said Miami forward LeBron James, who scored a game-high 26 points while forward Chris Bosh added 22. "If you have shooters out there, you would love to have a guy that can create for them." Unfortunately for the Heat, Cole hasn't been making shots or doing much creating lately. In his previous 14 games, Cole had shot a dismal 16-of-64 (21.9 perecent), including 2-of-21 (9.5 percent) in four April games. So Cole never moved from the bench during the first 43 minutes. For the 12 minutes that starting point guard Mario Chalmers wasn't in the game, James ran the point. "(There is) nothing set in stone," Spoelstra said of Cole possibly being out of the rotation. "Sometimes it takes something like (a benching), and he is such a tough kid and somebody who wants it so much, sometimes a change can change your perspective and look at the game from a different angle We are not writing him off." After entering the game with the Heat leading 85-64, Cole did make the most of garbage time, shooting 2-of-3 from the field and 6-of-8 from the foul line for 10 points. He had no problem with the message Spoelstra was sending. "Coach's job is to do what he thinks is best for the team, and you know I haven't been producing the way I normally do and the way I should," Cole said. "As a rookie point guard, in order to keep my mind fresh and for me to keep learning he wanted me to watch the game from a different perspective to try to refuel me and get my energy and spirits back up Coach is sending that message by sitting you and wanting you to learn." Cole remains confident that come playoff time Spoelstra won't have to resort to James for the bulk of minutes backing up Chalmers at the point. "He doesn't want to wear him out, and in order to keep that from happening, I have to do my job," Cole said. For Miami perimeter players getting weary during this lockout-shortened 66-game season, additional help is available with the return of Miller. While Spoelstra is figuring out how he might divvy up minutes in the postseason, it would be surprising if there's not a quality role for Miller. He had been shooting an NBA-best 49.3 percent (33-of-67) from three-point range and grabbing a respectable 6.3 boards per 36 minutes played before he went down March 10 with his injury. Miller hardly had the type of return Sunday he had Jan. 17 against San Antonio, when he shot 6-of-6 from three point range after missing the first 12 games of the season due to hernia surgery. But even though Miller went scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting (0-of-4 on three-pointers), he saw some positives. "It felt pretty good for the most part," Spoelstra said. "It's a good first step. (Spoelstra's) got to get his rotation set so he can get ready for the playoffs, and I think he'll be juggling for the next few games to see how it works out." Yes, Spoelstra will be dressed in a suit. But it often might look during upcoming games as if he should be wearing a white lab coat. Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson
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