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33 posts from February 2016

February 29, 2016

From poor chemistry to farm system to injuries to behind-the-scenes issues, Marlins trying to fix festering problems


Probe beneath the surface, beyond the regrettable free agent signings such as Jarrod Saltamacchia and foolish managerial lab experiments like Dan Jennings, and the Marlins acknowledged this winter there were more subtle shortcomings that ailed the organization, that festered internally, and also help explain why this franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since 2003.

Among them and what they’ve done in response:

### A decaying minor league system. The Marlins don’t have a single player in MLB.com’s list of top 100 prospects, and the fact their seven minor league teams all finished in last place last season “was not lost on me,” president David Samson said.

“We can’t have that. We don’t do the minor leagues to win. We do it to develop. When your entire system is bereft, when you don’t have one prospect in the top 100 -- arguably we should have, but you don’t -- you’ve got to take a look and understand why. We did a pretty deep dive into that and we need to do better.”

I asked a Marlins minor-league official what position players at high-level Class A or higher could become big-league starters. He mentioned Jupiter left fielder Austin Dean (.268, 18 steals, 52 RBI in 2015) and Jupiter shortstop/second baseman Avery Romero (.259, 42 RBI), but both are a long way away.

Austin Nola has an outside chance to be a utility guy,” said that minor-league official, who asked that his name not be used. “We’re really down in talent in our system. We’ve up given up guys like Chad Wallach, Austin Barnes, Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani in trades. We’ve got to sign more international players. We’re giving some of our international money to other clubs.”

Dealing Heaney to the Dodgers in a package for Dee Gordon (and others) was clearly a good move. But the Mat Latos/DeSclafani deal with Cincinnati obviously was not.

Hard-throwing right-hander Tyler Kolek (61st) was the only Marlin rated among MLB.com’s top 100 prospects last summer but he slid off the list after allowing 169 base-runners in 108 innings in Single A last season.

The more encouraging news: The Marlins have several promising position prospects in the low-level minors, including first baseman Josh Naylor, their first-round pick last year. And they have several quality pitching prospects throughout the system, including Jarlin Garcia.

But Samson indicated better decisions are needed, in general.

Even “six-year minor league free agents, we felt we were not doing as good a job as we needed to in those areas,” Samson said. “When you’re not the Dodgers or the Yankees, you have to make decisions at the lower levels the way Pittsburgh has done so well in recent years. I didn’t feel we were doing that.

"So we made some changes and we won’t bear the fruit of many of those changes for the coming years. When this window closes with these players, the next window comes and we’ll see how effective it is.”

There is renewed hope about the farm system after two significant additions, both from the Pirates: Marc DelPiano (who previous worked for the Marlins) was hired to be vice president/player development and run the team’s farm system, and Jim Benedict was added as vice president/pitching development, with the Marlins dealing a quality prospect to the Pirates (for a non-prospect) as compensation for him.

Benedict has a good relationship with pitching coach Juan Nieves and has been credited with helping several pitchers blossom, including Edinson Volquez and Gerrit Cole, among others. Benedict will work with Marlins pitchers at all levels of the organization, including the big league team.

“Benny brings this aura of ability to get things out of players that others can’t get,” Samson said. 

As for DelPiano, “he has tremendous attention to detail,” Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said.

The aforementioned Marlins minor-league official said DelPiano “is very impressive and dynamic. He says we’re going to develop champions.”

### Injuries issues. Last season, only five teams missed more games due to injuries that required players going on the disabled list. Samson said that prompted changes, though longtime trainer Sean Cunningham remains.

“We are trying a bunch of different things with the players this year,” Samson said. “We’re trying different things on conditioning. We’re trying different things with injury prevention. We’re studying their body composition.

“Injuries cost us our year last year to a large degree. Some injuries you cannot help [such as Giancarlo Stanton’s hand injury last June]. But there are ones you can, [such as] the hamstrings.”

### Internal chemistry. The Marlins regret signing Jeff Baker, who they believe was a malcontent and strongly soured several key young players before his release last summer. One team official called him a “cancer.”

But the problems extended off the field. “The chemistry last year was lacking both upstairs and downstairs and in between,” Samson said. “What we have this year is different. We had issues top to bottom, bottom to top and middle to middle. We sat down with Jeffrey, Don Mattingly, me, Mike Hill – we were in constant contact with Giancarlo Stanton, who is the leader of this team --- and I know things are better this year.

“I believe a positive clubhouse bereft of agenda will lead to victory.  There’s a different feel around the team that’s just better. I’m not blaming it on Dan Jennings or Mike Redmond. It’s better now.”

Still, Samson concluded that front office dynamics would work better without Jennings. Jennings is a good man and a good baseball man, but there was a sense last year that different executives were competing for owner Jeffrey Loria’s ear.

Last February, while Jennings was reaching out to free agent pitcher James Shields and discussing it with Loria, other members of the front office weren’t even aware of that, a team official said.

Here’s how it works now: This offseason, Benedict told the front office that he thought he could fix Edwin Jackson and suggested the Marlins sign him, which they did.

Samson said: “Mike Hill will then call [assistant GM] Mike Berger, and say, ‘Bene saw Edwin Jackson. What do you got on him?’”

Besides Berger, Hill will also discuss the list of external free-agent and trade options with front-office officials Jeff McAvoy, David Keller, Orrin Freeman and Benedict (for pitchers). Then Hill and Samson will determine how much money can be offered to that player within the team’s budget constraints.

That part “is done by me and Mike, because we have the budget,” Samson said. “Then we meet again and say, ‘Hey listen, no for [this player] but [yes] for that player,’ … and then you weigh [the consequences].”

### Analytics. The Marlins felt they were way behind in this area and hired respected Jason Pare from Toronto to lead the analytics department. Hill said the Marlins used analytics in deciding recent player acquisitions (such as Wei-Yin Chen) more than ever before.

“Now when we talk about a player, we have that analytical voice at the table now that can give their perspective to helping me make better decisions,” Hill said. “There's so much data out there. We always had the data. We just needed to interpret the data.”

The Marlins hope these changes make a tangible difference for a team that has MLB’s second-longest ongoing postseason drought, longer than any team except Seattle.

“Ever see the movie Honeymoon in Vegas?” Samson said. “There’s a guy walking and there’s a cloud over his head. It’s sunny everywhere and there’s a cloud over his head. I felt that about us. I felt there was always a cloud. I feel it has been lifted now.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

February 28, 2016

Sunday night Lamar Miller update; Joe Johnson notes; UM football sideline policy; Study confirms worrisome Dolphins perception; Local radio news

Quick 11:40 p.m. Sunday update: The Dolphins and impending unrestricted free agent Lamar Miller remain in discussions about a new deal, agent Drew Rosenhaus said on his weekly WSVN-Fox 7 segment tonight.

"Let's just say there's a mutual interest and a positive dialogue," Rosenhaus said. "Lamar will be a popular man in free agency. But we'll continue our discussions with the Dolphins and take it one day at a time from here."

Teams can begin discussions with free agents from other teams beginning March 7. But nobody can sign with a new team until March 9.


Some quick Sunday afternoon notes: 

### Joe Johnson is expected to join the Heat in time for Miami's game against the Knicks tonight, and here's how an Eastern Conference scout assessed his game: “Obviously not the player he was, and I thought Kevin Martin would have been a better option for them. But Johnson is more reliable than Gerald Green; his shot selection is better. He has a back to the basket game, a floater.

"Still a good three-point shooter," the scout continued. "His game is tailored to halfcourt playoff basketball. Below average defender; he can't guard a quick guy.”

### Johnson should help the Heat not only with three-pointers, but clutch three-point shooting. In the NBA’s definition of clutch (a margin of five or less with less than five minutes remaining), Johnson has shot 38.5 percent on clutch threes the past two seasons (15 for 39). This season, Luol Deng is 7 for 10 on clutch threes; all other Heat players are 8 for 41.

### Erik Spoelstra now has difficult choices to make with late-game lineups. With Chris Bosh out, Hassan Whiteside is needed on the floor late in close games. So besides Whiteside and Dwyane Wade, Spoelstra will need to choose three among four others for key late-game minutes: Goran Dragic (seems likely to be on the floor late), Johnson, Luol Deng and Justise Winslow.

In most cases, this will come down to choosing two among Johnson, Deng and Winslow. Winslow, obviously, is the worst distance shooter of the three, but Spoelstra understandably values his defense against the opponent's top scorer. If Deng is playing great and Johnson struggling, Deng could be the late-game choice. Otherwise, Spoelstra will be hard-pressed to keep Johnson off the floor late in close games, especially considering his aforementioned ability to stretch the defense.

### The Heat has fallen to last in the NBA in the three-point shooting percentage at 31.8. So Johnson --- who's shooting 37.1 percent on threes --- fills a major need in that regard. Johnson's 85 threes rank 50th in the league. Among those top 50, his accuracy would rank 27th.

### Because Johnson won’t have Bird Rights, the Heat would need to use some of its $37 million in cap space this summer if it chooses to re-sign him at more than the minimum. And Johnson, hoping to rebuild his value in Miami, clearly wants more than a minimum deal this offseason.

### One frustration with the Dolphins last season was the amount of passes completed well short of first downs. FootballOutsiders.com did a study on “failed completions,” which it described as completed passes that fail to gain 45 percent of needed yards on first down; 60 percent on second down; or 100 percent on third or fourth down.

Not surprisingly, Ryan Tannehill had the ninth-highest failed completion percentage. Jarvis Landry led the NFL with 35 failed completions after finishing second in 2014 with 26.

The web site said Landry’s failed completion “rate actually went up a little too, from 31.0 percent to 31.5 percent. He is a bit of a stud in fantasy football with PPR scoring, but his short gains have not really translated into real-life success for Miami's passing game.” (Landry is still clearly a major asset, and those numbers are as much a reflection on Tannehill and the play-caller.)

### Several former UM players have openly called for players to be allowed back on the sideline during games, but it’s not going to happen this season. UM implemented its policy after the NCAA/Nevin Shapiro scandal and the policy will run through the end of this season, with probation ending in late October.

UM athletic director Blake James said “after this season, I will discuss with [coach] Mark [Richt] what he feels works best and will communicate with President [Julio] Frenk on what the policy will be for the 2017 season."

Regardless, Richt wants to cultivate a relationship with former players and as Al Golden did, plans to invite all of them to a function the night before the spring game.

Former receiver Daryl Jones was on campus recently and “we were having a staff meeting,” cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said. “Daryl came in, met everybody and hugged us. That’s one of the ways [Richt] wants to welcome all the former guys.

“Once the former players meet him, they will feel honored to have a guy like him. We can’t do anything without understand where we came from – a team that won five championships, had more first-rounders than most teams, and we have to use that as one of our assets moving forward.”

### Palm Beach-based attorney Amber Wilson --- whose broadcasting resume includes frequent appearances on CBS-4's Sports Bang TV show with Jon Weiner of The Dan Le Batard radio show --- will have an on-air audition for 790 The Ticket's morning show on Monday through Thursday this week.

Wilson, who will join regular hosts Jonathan Zaslow and Brett Romberg, is the second person to audition on-air to replace Fox-bound Joy Taylor. Local TV personality Johanna Gomez was the first.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please see the last post for Sunday news on UM adding a defensive back who's eligible immediately.

February 27, 2016

Sunday AM: UM closes in on DB; Heat, UM postscripts & reaction after Saturday games; Wade on adding Joe Johnson; Tallon on Panthers' three trades today; Why are the Marlins so optimistic about an offense that finished 29th in runs? Some reasons

Quick Sunday morning update: Former University of Texas defensive back Adrian Colbert, who visited with UM coaches and players on campus this weekend, announced this morning on Twitter: "So blessed for the opportunity to continue my career at THE U. We got work to do, and it will come. "

Colbert appeared in 38 games at Texas and would be eligible to play in 2016 because he's graduating from Texas in May.

Colbert made only four starts at Texas and lost his starting job to freshman Jason Hall in 2014. He appeared in 12 games as a reserve last season but wasn't credited with a single tackle. He has one career interception.

But even though Colbert wasn't an impact player for the Longhorns, UM is desperate for depth at both safety and cornerback. He would have a chance to crack Miami's top four at safety, alongside Jamal Carter, Rayshawn Jenkins and Jaquan Johnson. Robert Knowles and three freshmen summer arrivals (Cedrick Wright, Jeff James and Romeo Finley) also will be competing for playing time.

Colbert, who has one year of eligibility remaining, was rated a four-star prospect and the fifth-best safety in the 2012 class by 247sports. Rivals thought slightly less of him as a Texas prep prospect, rating him a three-star prospect and the No. 24 safety.





This 101-89 loss in Boston was damaging because it not only leaves the Heat two games behind the Celtics for the No. 3 seed, but clinches the season series for the Celtics. The team that finishes third would avoid Cleveland in the second round, presuming the Cavs hold off hard-charging Toronto for the top seed.

This was also discouraging: The Heat, very good late in close games for most of the season, was outplayed down the stretch for the second game in a row. The Golden State loss on Wednesday can easily be excused. This one, though, was more difficult to stomach, with Boston closing the game on a 19-7 run.

Among the late-game missteps: A Goran Dragic turnover and an Hassan Whiteside foul on a Marcus Smart three-point attempt.

### The Heat closed with 20 turnovers, including four each by Dragic and Dwyane Wade.

Whiteside, again, was a force, with 13 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks in 33 minutes off the bench. Wade had high praise for Hassan afterward:

"Hopefully one day I can look back at a Hall of Fame career and say I was there for the beginning of it," Wade said. "He has an immense amount of talent. Since the break, he's been playing a dominant big man game and we love it."

Whiteside has five games with at least eight blocks this season. The rest of the NBA has one combined (by Anthony Davis).

Dragic had 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, finishing 9 for 15 from the field. Wade (19 points) shot just 7 for 19.

### Luol Deng had just one double-figure rebound game in 44 starts at small forward before the All-Star break. He has five double-figure rebound games in five games starting at power forward since the All-Star break. He had 11 points, 12 boards today.

### Erik Spoelstra's reaction on Fox Sports Sun afterward: "The turnovers were costly. More than that, the 50/50 balls, they were winning those battles. There were a lot of things we did well defensively, holding them to a low percentage."

### Wade's thoughts, courtesy of Fox Sports Sun: "We didn't make the adjustments we needed to do away from the ball. It came down to turnovers, long rebounds. We couldn't overcome that. We didn't move as much as we should have."

### Wade, on Heat addition Joe Johnson, who cleared waivers in the past hour and whose addition was confirmed on Twitter by owner Micky Arison: "To put somebody on the floor that can shoot the ball, can score in different areas of the floor and make plays, just adds to what we're trying to do. Joe is a friend of mine. I tried to do my best to paint the picture that this is a good place to be, and the decision from there is his. Make sure he sees my name in his in-box a lot. He made the decision what's best for them... Open arms in Miami for him....  Losing Chris [Bosh] right now... in games like this you really get to see you're missing your All-Star."

### The Heat shot just 41 percent and 1 for 13 on threes. Gerald Green, very likely to be replaced by Johnson in the rotation, shot 0 for 6, continuing a deep slump.  He's 0 for 11 and scoreless over his last 62 minutes over three games.


What an appropriate way for UM to finish its home schedule, with a stirring 75-67 comeback win against Louisville, fueled by a late 12-0 run.

Angel Rodriguez (17 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 turnover) was terrific in his final home game, especially down the stretch. Davon Reed, often underappreciated, also had 17.

UM ended up sweeping its home ACC schedule (including impressive home wins vs. Duke, Virginia and Louisville). Remarkably, UM's only home loss was to a Northeastern team that entered today 16-14 and seventh in the Colonial Athletic Conference.

"They're a really good basketball team," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said afterward. "They've had a great seed. If North Carolina loses tonight, they'll be tied for first place. They really don't have a major weakness, because they shoot it, they rebound, they play good defense, they have a strong desire to win. I'm very impressed with their basketball team. Backcourt experience, defense, unselfish, and they have the point guard at the end of the game to run things and get to the foul line." 

 Pitino reportedly had a verbal confrontation with a fan during the game. Pitino's version of what happened: "I just said, "Do you have any other vernacular here at Miami other than, 'Shut up and sit down?'" I mean, come up with some jokes or something."

### UM moved to 23-5 and 12-4 and figures to move up from No. 12 in the rankings. A top two or three NCAA Tournament seed remains very much within reach.... One negative today: Guard Ja'Quan Newton was suspended for the final three games of the regular season after violating undisclosed team rules.


Great job by Panthers GM Dale Tallon supplementing a very good roster two days before the trade deadline. A quick look at Florida's acquisitions:

### Center Jiri Hudler (plucked from Calgary for a second-round in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2018). The 32-year-old has 10 goals and 25 assists in 53 games for Calgary... Had 31 goals, 45 assists last season... He's playoff tested, with 41 points in 77 postseason games... Won a Stanley Cup for Detroit in 2008... Won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2015, given to the player who most exhibits gentlemanly conduct.... He's earning $4 million in the last year of his contract; will be an unrestricted free agent this season.

Panthers Fox Sports Florida TV analyst Denis Potvin, on Hudler: "Relentless offensive player. Plays responsibly defensively."

### Defenseman Jakub Kindl (acquired from Detroit for 2017 sixth-round pick). The 29-year-old is a plus three in 25 games for Detroit, with two goals and four assists... A first-round in 2005, Kindl has played all 273 career games for the Red Wings... Gives the Panthers defensive depth, which was needed because of several recent injuries.... Has one more season on his contract after this one, at north of $3 million.

Potvin's view on Kindl: "At 29, very good pickup. Can play on the power play. Good first-pass defenseman."

### Winger Teddy Purcell (acquired from Edmonton for 2017 third-round pick). The 30-year-old forward is putting together a strong season, with 11 goals and 21 assists. His career high in goals: 24 for Tampa in 2001-12.... He's earning $4.5 million this season in the last year of his contract; will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

[UPDATE]: Here's what Tallon said on a conference call tonight:

"These are really good players," Tallon said. "Ownership gave me carte blanche to get this done. It shows their commitment. [He said at one time he wouldn't have had that flexibility]. I can't thank [owner] Vinnie [Viola] enough.

"I wanted to make our team better and more experienced. We needed a presence on the power play. This gives us three wonderful scoring lines [with Purcell and Hudler added to the mix]. We need a good puck moving defenseman [Tallon considers Kindl to be that].

"Purcell is a smart player; he makes others around him better. Good on the power player. Averaged about a point per game in the playoffs [17 points in 18 games for Tampa in 2010-11]. These guys complete our team a little more."

He said Washington is the "cream of the crop" in the East and the Panthers needed to augment their roster. "I'm pretty satisfied with the depth of our team [after the trades]," Tallon said. "We needed playmaking and depth on the wings. We're ahead of schedule."

Tallon said Purcell and Hudler have visa issues to sort through in order to be able to play Thursday in Colorado. All three newcomers are expected to play Tuesday in Winnipeg.

The NHL trade deadline is Monday. "Who says we're done?" Tallon said. "We'll see what happens the next day and a half." 


JUPITER --- Michael Hill, the Marlins’ president/baseball operations, said he would “put our position player talent against anybody in the National League.”

That’s not the type of comment you would expect to hear from an executive with a franchise that finished 29th in runs scored last season (ahead of only Atlanta) and added only one bat (journeyman backup Chris Johnson).

So why the optimism?

“We're going to have our right fielder for more than 74 games,” Hill said of Giancarlo Stanton. “We would have scored a lot more runs had we had a healthy Giancarlo for the majority of the season. Christian Yelich was hurt early in the season [and limited to 126 games]. That changes the complexion of your lineup almost automatically.”

Hill also expects growth from catcher J.T. Realmuto and first baseman Justin Bour and far more from center fielder Marcell Ozuna. But on the flip side, can the Marlins expect another .333 season from second baseman Dee Gordon, who hit 40 points above his career average?

Among the reasons the Marlins believe they will be better offensively:

### More from an outfield that some, a year ago, called among the best in baseball.

With Stanton, the issue is health; he missed 190 games over the past four seasons, including 88 last year with a hand injury.

When he sustained the injury in late June, he had 27 homers and 67 RBI in 74 games. Over 162, that would have projected to 59 and 147.

With Yelich, the key is avoiding another slow start; he was hitting .178 on May 22 last season.

He hit .342 after the All-Star break (sixth-best in baseball among qualifiers), helping him close at .300 after batting .288 and .284 his first two seasons.

“I think [.300] meant more because of where I started that year at,” he said.

Yelich, in his career, has hit decently in April (.265), poorly in May (.223) and well the next four months (.285, .298, .312, .320).

“You could just tell there was something off [early last season],” he said. “I wasn’t swinging at good pitches.”

Manager Don Mattingly said Yelich “profiles as a No. 3 guy [in the lineup]. Juan Pierre said, ‘This kid’s legit.’ I love his swing."

The biggest variable is Ozuna, who’s in excellent shape. The Marlins thought his poor conditioning affected his 2015 performance, which led to a 5 ½ week demotion to Triple A.

“I worked all offseason, ran a lot,” he said. “I did this [losing 20 pounds] for myself. I’ll have the same power.”

Ozuna hit .278 with six homers and 18 RBI in 162 at-bats after returning from his 5 ½ weeks in the minors, compared with .249, 4, 26 in 297 at-bats before. That was an encouraging sign that he might revert to 2014 numbers (.269, 23 homers, 85 RBI).

"We think he's a lot more in the tank," Mattingly said today. "I think we'll get that."

### The Marlins believe Bour’s breakout season (23 homers, 73 RBI in 129 games) wasn’t a fluke and consider Johnson (a career .314 hitter against lefties) the ideal “right-handed complement,” Hill said.

Bour hit just .221 with no homers in 68 at-bats and Mattingly likely will insert Johnson against some tough lefties, but Mattingly said it won’t be a platoon.

### Realmuto led all big-league catchers in triples (seven), hit .333 in September and Hill says “the sky is the limit for JT” offensively. “We know he can handle the bat to all fields, runs well.”

### The Marlins expect similar offensive production, if not more, from third baseman Martin Prado (.288, 9 home runs, 63 RBI) and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (.281, 5, 48).

### Marlins Park is now more hitter-friendly, with the walls having been moved in 11 feet in center-to-right center and lowered by three feet.

But “it's not going to go from being a huge pitcher's park to a bandbox,” Yelich said. “It’s still going to be a pitcher's park.”

### The Marlins believe new hitting coach Barry Bonds will make a tangible difference. So, apparently, do Alex Rodriguez and Dexter Fowler, who have been pupils of Bonds in his role as a personal hitting coach.

“Barry will be good for the hitters; he has a brilliant baseball mind," Rodriguez told The New York Post.

Fowler, who boosted his batting average by 13 points after his first offseason with Bonds, told The Post that Bonds is “the best in the business. The Marlins made a great hire.”

Justin Bour said Bonds initially has been observing and “like all good hitting coaches, he’s not going to change things right away.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 26, 2016

Friday afternoon: Joe Johnson expected to sign with Heat and what Miami is getting; Heat mulls other options; Uneasiness, doubt for Miami Open tennis, Trump golf, Beckham soccer -- Exploring each

As our Ethan Skolnick and ESPN's Zach Lowe reported today, Joe Johnson is expected to sign with the Heat when he clears waivers in the next day. The sense we've gotten is Johnson sees an opportunity for playing time here and feels comfortable with friend Dwyane Wade and others on the Heat roster.

A few points on Johnson:

### There are tax complications with signing Johnson. As many of you know, if Miami signs a player before the March 6-7 range and keeps him for the rest of the season, it would be back over the tax line. But there is one way the Heat could sign Johnson now and escape the tax: If it cuts a player and that player is signed by another team.

For example, if the Heat cuts Beno Udrih (out for the season), the Sixers could move closer to the NBA-required cap floor by claiming him (and would save some money because of arcane NBA rules).

Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg publicly have made clear that the Heat does not want to a tax team because doing so would make Miami a "repeater tax team" --- which is extremely onerous financially. Miami has said it wants to "cleanse" itself of the punitive consequences for being a repeater tax team. If Miami avoids the tax this year, it would not be at risk of being a repeater tax team the rest of the decade.

### Johnson, 34, is no longer the player who was a seven-time All-Star (2007-12 and 2014), but he is an upgrade over Gerald Green, and that's what's important here.

Johnson is shooting 37.1 percent on threes (85 for 229), which is exactly his career average (and 44.1 percent on threes in February). Green is shooting 31.6 (67 for 212), well below his 36.2 career average.

### Johnson likely would take Green's minutes, leaving Erik Spoelstra to choose between Josh Richardson and Green for his ninth rotation spot.

Richardson would have a good chance to keep that job because he can get the team into offense better than Green can.

### What's puzzling about Johnson is the steep decline in his two-point shooting. He's shooting 42.7 percent on two pointers, well below his 47.2 last season and 47.1 career average.

Here's one reason for that: He's shooting 42.6 percent on shots from three to 10 feet --- far below his 50 percent career average.

Because of his diminished accuracy on twos, Johnson's overall field goal percentage has plunged to 40.6 --- well below his 44.1 career average.

### His scoring average has diminished the past four seasons, from 18.8 to 16.3 to 15.8 to 14.4 to 11.8 this season.

### Johnson is well respected around the league, considered a consummate pro.

### Johnson is averaging just 10 points in two games against Cleveland this season and shooting 6 for 18. He's averaging 17 against Toronto and shooting 11 for 19.

### Johnson is a decent rebounder for his position (3.9 per game this season) and is averaging 4.1 assists to 2.0 turnovers.

### Johnson, who can play small forward or shooting guard, ranks just 21st among small forwards in points per game (12.1) and 22nd in field goal percentage (40.6).

As former NBA front-office exec and Yahoo contributor Bobby Marks noted, signing Johnson this weekend would cost Miami $125,000 in luxury taxes, $265,000 in salary and $2.5 million in money that wouldn't be eligible to receive in its tax distribution. But this goes well beyond $2.8 million.

This is all about being a repeater tax team. That, of course, would be avoided if Miami cuts a player with the knowledge he would be claimed elsewhere.

### The Heat might not be done. They have expressed interest in speaking to Marcus Thornton if he clears waivers Sunday. Thornton likes the Heat but will have several options. If Udrih is cut and claimed by the 76ers, the Heat would have room for three minimum players.


As March nears, doubt and uneasiness surround two of our marquee events --- Miami Open tennis on Key Biscayne and the WGC-Cadillac Golf Championship at Trump National Doral --- as well as David Beckham’s precarious parking plan for his proposed Miami MLS team.

With Donald Trump’s controversial comments putting the golf tournament at risk, and a court ruling doing the same with the tennis event, which is more likely to leave South Florida? The tennis tournament is far more at risk.

The Miami Open “is going to leave. It has no choice,” the tennis tournament’s attorney, Eugene Stearns, reiterated this week. “The only question is when, not if.”

Even though the Miami Open is willing to pay for $50 million in facility upgrades it deems essential, a December appeals court ruling blocked those renovations, upholding a lower court’s ruling restricting growth on Crandon Park. Stearns said another appeal is pending.

Tournament owner International Players Championship Inc. has seven years left in its contract with Miami-Dade County after this year’s event, but Stearns said the agreement is no longer valid because the county failed to provide an updated home.

Stearns “would be shocked” if the tournament leaves before the 2017 event but won’t speculate beyond.

Stearns has filed motions seeking a re-hearing and “as long as there’s an opportunity to fight the battle, we’ll fight the battle,” he said.

Stearns won’t comment on which cities have expressed interest --- Orlando has been mentioned but there’s no facility ready there --- but says “many places would spend a lot of money to lure this tournament.”

For those unfamiliar with the legal battle that leaves the Miami Open on something close to life support, a quick primer:

The tournament’s nemesis is Bruce Matheson, a descendant of the original family that owned Crandon. The land continues to be governed by restrictions tied to the 1940 donation of the property to the county.

The Mathesons, who were large land holders on Key Biscayne at the time, required Miami-Dade to build a bridge to the island after accepting the 975 acres for Crandon, which was required to be operated only for “public park purposes.”

Other Matheson family members sued to block creating a large stadium to serve the tennis tournament in the 1980s, and the litigation was settled in part by creating a four-person committee to approve any changes to the park’s master plan. A non-profit picked by the Matheson family, the National Parks Conservation Association, holds half of the seats and named Bruce Matheson to one of them.

“He doesn’t play sports and they annoy the crap out of him,” Stearns said. “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. The county goes along with his plan. The facility is old. It’s tired. It needs to be upgraded. They want to build permanent facilities, not just bleachers, so people can watch comfortably and have permanent bathrooms. And the bleachers are unsightly.”

Butch Buchholz, who runs the WGC at Doral and was the founder of the tennis tournament, said “it’s critical for the improvements to get done. Madrid has retractable roofs. Indian Wells has done a fabulous job. Rome redid their stadium. Cincinnati has done a complete renovation. We have to do it. The grandstand is antiquated. The players have no locker-rooms. The players have to go all the way back to the stadium to change. It’s not what today’s facilities are like.”

As for golf, the PGA Tour said in December that “all options” will be explored immediately after the tournament because of Trump’s comments over the past year --- presumably those about Mexicans and proposing a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

But Buchholz said the PGA Tour informed his event’s executives that “they do not want to leave South Florida. They want to stay in Miami. They think it works perfectly for the Florida swing. They want it to work. I’ve heard nothing about packing up and leaving.”

With Trump the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, it would be very surprising if the PGA bolts the Trump course. Buchholz said moving the event to the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens --- site of this week’s Honda Classic --- is unrealistic. And there’s not another South Florida course that would be ideal for the event.

“I’m not capable of knowing whether there is another championship course here; that’s a PGA thing,” Buchholz said. “They want us to keep our heads down. They will deal with Mr. Trump.”

Buchholz said the “PGA doesn’t want us to talk about this,” even with sponsors. He said though sponsorships are down a bit, he doesn’t attribute it to Trump’s comments and no sponsors have bolted citing Trump.

Buchholz said he heard the most resistance to Trump, from a standpoint of supporting tournaments at his golf resorts, “is from the Latin community.”

He said losing both events, which is unlikely, “would be a catastrophe.”

As for soccer, Beckham continues to move ahead with plans to build a facility on a nine-acre site on the Western edge of Overtown. As Beckham works to bring on an additional partner for a cash infusion, his plan is to wrap up everything --- including acquiring a small piece of land from Miami-Dade County and getting city approval of some zoning changes --- by June, with MLS then voting on the plan and construction beginning soon after.

But parking remains a concern. Beckham’s group plans to build no garage; the closest is five blocks away. Beckham’s group said 6800 spaces will be available within half a mile and hopes fans take public transportation to Culmer Station, then walk three blocks.

Miami mayor Tomas Regalado is skeptical: “I really don’t know how you could possibly walk from Culmer. I think it’s too far.”

Tadd Schwartz, spokeman for Miami Beckham United, explained the group's position on parking, and where things stand, thusly:

"Miami Beckham United’s partners, David Beckham, Simon Fuller, Marcelo Claure and Tim Leiweke, have pledged to build a privately-financed, world-class soccer stadium that would be developed without a penny of taxpayer dollars, making this one of the most responsible stadium agreements Miami has ever seen. We have identified a development site in Miami’s historic Overtown neighborhood and our team is now performing due diligence on the property as we move toward finalizing the acquisition and beginning the formal entitlement process.

"In the meantime, Miami Beckham United is engaging nearby residents and community groups to learn about our neighbors’ priorities as our stadium development comes to life. One topic that has sparked discussion is that we are building a stadium without parking. The fact is, Miami is becoming an increasingly urban city and soccer is an inherently urban sport in markets around the world, so an MLS stadium in the urban core is a natural fit. Our stadium will be within walking distance of downtown Miami, the Metrorail system and the Miami River District, providing our fans multiple ways to arrive and plenty of restaurants and bars where they can spend time before and after matches.

"You only have to look back to the glory days of the Orange Bowl for an example of a stadium plan that thrived without parking -- and our stadium will be less than half the size of the Orange Bowl.

"Our site is just three blocks away from the Culmer Metrorail station and within a 10 minute walk of 7,000 parking spaces. We're also a short walk away from All Aboard Florida's new central station, which will provide access to Tri Rail, Metrorail and the new Brightline. We’re also exploring new transportation methods, such as parking shuttles on game days and water taxis that will arrive on the Miami River."

Of fans needing to walk several blocks to an Overtown stadium in summer heat, former Fort Lauderdale Strikers president Tim Robbie said: “I don’t think it’s ideal. But it’s workable. The hope is you have Friday night games and the downtown crowd stops after work and goes to happy hour.”

### ESPN3 will carry English and Spanish language streaming of UM-UF games Saturday and Sunday. It's the first time ESPN3 has ever streamed a college baseball game in Spanish.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 25, 2016

Heat notes (Joe Johnson, plan for Whiteside, Deng); Riley's Thursday comments; and Marlins' battle for rotation spots

Some Thursday afternoon news:    

### The Heat, Cleveland, and Atlanta are receiving heavy consideration from Joe Johnson, who was waived by the Nets today, according to NBA writer Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops. Boston and OKC are close behind those top three, Scotto reported.

As Ethan has reported, Dwyane Wade plans to lobby Johnson to join the Heat.

Pat Riley already has said the Heat doesn't plan to sign a player until the range of March 10 because of luxury tax considerations, and it remains to be seen if Johnson (who doesn't need an extra two weeks of paychecks) would be willing to wait.

Asked tonight whether he needs to rethink signing a player before March 10, Riley said: "We have to really wait and discuss that. Players have to clear waivers. Once they clear waivers, we'll get in touch with their agents and we'll have them prioritized."

Asked whether signing someone becomes a priority in the wake of Beno Udrih's injury, Riley said: "We are going to have to wait. Being down another point guard, we may have to rethink that, but right now, that's not the priority."

(Riley made those comments to several reporters, including our intern Aric DiLalla, at a Heat charity gala.)

To avoid going back over the tax threshold, the Heat would need to offer Johnson no more than a minimum deal, and wait for another couple of weeks.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer previously reported that Johnson will sign with the Cavs, while several others have said the Cavs are confident they will land him. The Hawks, where Johnson spent seven seasons earlier in his career, are reportedly making a big push.

The 6-7 Johnson, 34, averaged 11.8 points and shot 40.6 percent overall and 37.1 percent on threes in 57 games (all starts) this season for Brooklyn.

To be playoff eligible, players must be released by March 1, but can sign with a new team any time before the end of the regular season.

### Riley declined to comment on Chris Bosh's health or whether he might play this season. "I'm not going to make any comment on that; I'm not a doctor," he said.

Regarding Bosh, Riley said: "They are continuing to find ways and explore options."

### Point guard Andre Miller also is now available for Miami to consider, but he’s just a 21.7 percent career three-point shooter.

### Hassan Whiteside said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra informed him that “coming off the bench is not long term.”

With 65 points and 54 rebounds in the past three games, Whiteside is the first player since Charles Barkley in 1986 to produce at least 60 and 50 in three games in a row off the bench.

And teammates are as happy with him as they have ever been. He’s “very focused, not caring about anything but being dominant,” Wade said. “Playing like a monster out there… We would love to get that Hassan every night… He’s crushing people [on screens].”

### Luol Deng, who had only one double-figure rebounding game before the All-Star break, has 11, 10, 16 and 11 in four starts at power forwards since then, while averaging 22.3 points in those games.

With Deng at power forward, he said friends on “Atlanta and the Wizards said how fast we played, that it took them off guard.”



Unable to afford another quality veteran pitcher to augment their rotation, the Marlins at least have some intriguing options internally: two promising young left-handers and a veteran who appears to have righted himself after two disastrous years with the Cubs.

If Jarred Cosart pitches very effectively this spring, as the Marlins hope, he would project as the team’s fourth starter, behind Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen and Tom Koehler.

That would leave right-hander Edwin Jackson and young lefties Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino as the top options for the fifth spot. Two could stick if Cosart struggles, with David Phelps among others also being given a chance to earn a rotation spot.

Jackson, 32, bombed for the Cubs after signing a four-year, $52 million contract before the 2013 season. He led the National League with 18 losses in 2013, was third with 15 more losses in 2014 and won only 14 games over those two seasons, while allowing an absurd 487 base-runners in 316 innings and producing a bloated 5.60 earned-run average.

But a move to the bullpen rejuvenated him. He pitched well in relief for the Cubs last season (2-1, 3.19) before being released in July, then went 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA for the Braves out of the bullpen. The Marlins signed him at the minimum in January, with the Cubs paying all but $500,000 of the $12 million he’s owed in 2016.

Despite thriving in the bullpen, “I still look at myself as a starter,” Jackson said. “There’s still something I want to prove to myself, not to anyone else. Wherever I am [starting or relief], I will be the best I can be. [But] my mind frame is breaking the rotation.”

Of his disastrous Cubs experience, Jackson said: “Anything that could happen did happen. It’s how you respond. I pitched well enough to be in the rotation [last year]. I would pitch once every eight, nine days last year and didn’t complain.”

After allowing opponents to hit .281 and .302 against him in 2013 and 2014, Jackson limited batters to a .218 average last season, including .167 in 24 innings with the Braves to close the season.

He attributes his improvement to being “in a better rhythm. It was more rhythm than mechanics.”

Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said Jackson’s “stuff hasn’t diminished at all.” The team believes pitching coach Juan Nieves and roving pitching guru Jim Benedict can extract more from him.

One thing Jackson isn’t lacking: body art. He has a dozen tattoos, each reflecting “where I was in my life and how I felt” at the time.

Last offseason, he had a famous Martin Luther King quote tattooed on his side: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

If Jackson wins a starting spot, he likely would need to hold off two talented second-year players.

Among the Marlins’ pitching prospects, Conley, 25, was the most impressive last season, finishing 4-1 with a 3.76 ERA, with 59 strikeouts in 67 innings, and allowing no more than three earned runs in any of his final eight starts.

The former second-round pick out of Washington State went 34-21 with 3.52 in 3 ½ minor league seasons.

“I’ve shown I can get major-league hitters out,” he said at the end of last season.

The key for Conley “is my hand speed and fastball arm slot, when batters think it’s a fastball and realize it’s not.” His fastball averaged 91.2 mph last season, and Conley tinkered with his delivery this offseason to try to generate more power.

That’s important, because 66 percent of Conley’s pitches were fastballs last season, compared with 19 percent changeups and 15 percent sliders.

Before last season, Conley never paid attention to how hard he was throwing.

“I look at the radar gun all the time now,” he said. “Jose Fernandez told me to look at the radar gun between pitches.” He said that helps him determine what he wants to throw next.

Nicolino, conversely, isn’t particularly worried about velocity. His fastball averaged just 88.7 mph last season, and he excels when he’s keeping hitters off balance by changing speeds. He had low strikeout numbers in the minors and just 23 in 74 innings last season.

“Nicolino is never going to be a strikeout guy,” said former Marlins manager and general manager Dan Jennings, who’s now with the Washington Nationals. “He’s going to be a pitch-to-contact guy, a location guy. Conley can strike people out with his slider.”

Nicolino’s overall numbers (5-4, 4.01 ERA in 12 starts) weren’t bad, but he had two poor September starts, allowing seven runs in one blowout loss and five in another.

“I don’t think we saw the best of Nicolino,” Hill said.

Nicolino said the key for him is throwing his “changeup off my fastball to both sides of the plate and not getting into a pattern. In my [poor] starts, there was more of a pattern.”

### Among the Marlins’ three new TV analysts (Eduardo Perez, Al Leiter, Preston Wilson), Perez will work the most games -- 70 to 80, he said. The Marlins and Fox say it's undetermined how many games Leiter will work; he has other commitments calling Yankees games for YES Network and doing studio work for MLB Network. Leiter and Wilson might work a comparable number of games, Fox says.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 24, 2016

Dolphins coach Adam Gase addresses issues; Pat Riley addresses open roster spots; UM football item

Beyond saying he’s happy with the tight ends,  Dolphins coach Adam Gase shed light on a few other issues today at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis:

He said he has spoken with Brent Grimes but during that discussion, Gase never mentioned Grimes' wife, who sharply criticized Ryan Tannehill on Twitter, on the radio and elsewhere. “We just had general conversations; that never came up.”

Is Grimes wife a divisive issue? “I wasn’t here. That’s not something I’m concerned with.”

Offensively,  Gase said he’s happy with the group at tight end and receiver: “We have some holes we have to fill. It starts with what happens at the running back position [with Lamar Miller a free agent]. We have to clean up the offensive line a little bit."

He cited guard as an area the team wants to “improve” and “we have some ideas on how we can help the guys currently on the roster…. When you have good guard play, it’s easier for the quarterback to step up.”

Regarding tight ends Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims: “I really see a great fit as far as what we do. We've made a living off the tight end in this offense the last three years so expect [Cameron] to be a big part of it.”

On DeVante Parker: “I love his skill set. Has great hands. Big body. Excited to see what he can do in this offense.”

First priority for him? “For us it will be teaching the offense. We’ve got to figure out what’s best for us. We have a different group than what we had in Chicago.”

He said he has spoken to Ryan Tannehill but “you can’t do anything football wise” yet, per league rules.

Will Tannehill have the ability to audible? “The quarterback in this system does have the ability to move in and out of plays. It’s how much can this group handle. Earlier, it’s probably not going to be as much as later. ….One good thing about his offense is it’s really on the players.”

On Dion Jordan: “Right now, all I know is he’s suspended.”

On new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen:  “I told him we stole your offense [from Indianapolis]. [He’s] walking into a situation where he already knows everything. He has a really good feel for what I’m looking for."

On new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph: “I’ve worked with Vance before. He was a guy that always drove me nuts. I always felt he knew way too much of what was going on our side of the ball…. We felt with the personnel we have, sticking with the 4-3 is going to be critical for us.”

He said Ndamukong Suh "is in a good place. We've had discussions. He has been around the building quite a bit, as far as working out on his own."

He said Jay Ajayi "looked like a different player to me" last year. "I'm very excited to see what we can do with him." He said he likes all three running backs (free agent Lamar Miller and Damien Williams as well).

He is "excited" about Kenny Stills. "That vertical speed. Guys like that are hard to find. Interested in seeing what we can do with him."

He said "there are a few spots on defense we're looking to clean up. We're so far away from this thing being an end product. We have some needs we need to fill."


Some comments from Pat Riley, for those who missed his interview on Fox Sports Sun tonight:

Regarding the luxury tax: "Getting to 13 players was important. It gives us the opportunity to sign somebody after March 10 and gives us the opportunity to add another player down the line. By the end of the season, we'll have 15 players on our roster."

(By waiting until that range of March 9 or 10, the Heat can sign one player to the minimum without going back over the tax threshold, then can sign another player to the minimum with a day or two left in the regular season.)

On the trade deadline: "We had some hard decisions to make but not one decision we made was ever at the true expense of being competitive. We want to get in the playoffs, see what this team can do there. Not one move we made compromised our competitiveness to get into the playoffs."

Why the Heat is opposed to being a repeat taxpayer: "The most important aspect of it is you've got to really see the big picture where you are. We started to look at 2016 and 2017. We want tremendous flexibility. We don't want to be restrained by any repeater tax. We want to have the opportunity to do really something significant.... I've always thought big. I am more willing to take a risk at times. There are a number of options and directions you can go."


You seldom hear a coach call out another organization, but Arizona coach Bruce Arians did that today at the Scouting Combine when he said the Dolphins should have hired Todd Bowles as head coach after he went 2-1 as Miami’s interim coach in 2011.

"Miami screwed up a long time ago, Arians said. "He should have been head coach there when he was interim coach,” Arians said.

Bowles is now the Jets' coach.

### If UM gets a commitment this week from Texas backup safety Adrian Colbert but can’t lure JC Jackson (they’re interested) or another corner who’s immediately eligible to play, the Hurricanes could use safety Jaquan Johnson more at corner. Safeties coach Ephraim Banda and cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph both said he’s capable of playing cornerback.

February 23, 2016

From vertigo victim to closer conundrum, chatter on Marlins pitching staff; Mayock on Fins draft; Pat Riley speaks; Dragic revelation


Thoughts and notes on the Marlins pitching staff on the first day everyone was present at spring training:

### The Marlins haven’t guaranteed Jarred Cosart anything, even indicating a willingness to send him to the minors if he doesn’t win a rotation spot. But let’s be clear: The Marlins would feel a lot better about their rotation if he thrives this spring and wins the No. 4 job, behind Jose Fernandez, Wei Yin Chen and Tom Koehler.

But here’s the question: Is the 25-year-old Cosart the pitcher who went 13-11, with a 3.69 ERA for Houston and Miami in 30 starts in 2014, or closer to the one who went 2-5 with a 4.52 ERA in 13 starts last year during a season disrupted by vertigo?

One encouraging sign: Batters hit just .231 against him in 2014, after his July trade to Miami, and .243 last season.

“At my best, I’ve shown I can beat the best,” he said. “I showed in 2014 what I could do. I feel great, haven’t had any vertigo symptoms.”

He said his first-ever bout with vertigo last year “was pretty unbearable. It was like a really drunk feeling, everything spinning.”

Symptoms subsided by September after “therapy, rehab, lots of head exercises, following laser points with my eyes, lots of crazy stuff. The doctor said I don’t have to worry about it any more.”

### Of the other contenders for the final two rotation spots, Adam Conley (4-1, 3.76) impressed the Marlins the most last year, though some internally believe Justin Nicolino (5-4, 4.01) has the higher ceiling.  Edwin Jackson (4-3, 3.07) was far more effective as a reliever last year than as a starter the previous two, but the Marlins would be comfortable with him as a No. 5. David Phelps (4-8, 4.50, missed final seven weeks with stress fracture in forearm) can’t be discounted.

Kendry Flores (1-2, 4.97) and Jose Urena (1-5, 5.25) are long shots and it would be a bad sign if perennially disappointing Brad Hand is in the rotation. 

### Don Mattingly has no more important decision than deciding whether he wants AJ Ramos or Carter Capps pitching the ninth.

Ramos converted 32 of 36 save chances last season, with a 2.30 ERA and .184 average against, but allowed six home runs in 70 innings and said he stressed out his parents by getting himself into difficult situations too often.

“This is nothing new to me,” Ramos said of needing to win the closer’s job again. “Nothing ever comes easy to me. My whole life, I’ve had to work my butt off.”

Capps was usually jaw-droppingly dominant (.168 average against, 58 strikeouts and 18 hits allowed in 31 innings) but missed the final two months with a strained elbow. He says he’s healthy.

He doesn’t have a career save, and while everybody loves his stuff, two scouts have told me they’re concerned about his durability because his unique delivery puts so much pressure on his arm. Mattingly suggested closing might be better for Capps’ health because when he throws in the bullpen, he knows he would be coming in the game.

Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan and Brad Johnson combined on an interesting piece on Ramos and Capps on their web site, which we encourage reading. Some highlights:

“When Ramos runs into trouble, it’s with his fastball. The pitch is merely adequate which makes him a somewhat uncommon closer in this age of blazing heat. He still has velocity – 93 mph worth of it. He just doesn’t get the best results with the pitch.      

“When he slumped last season, he had four multi-run innings in the space of 15 games. What do you want to bet his fastball was to blame in those games? (hint, it was). Make no mistake, Ramos is a very good relief pitcher despite his ordinary fastball.”

Fangraphs, in that piece, calls Capps “arguably the best reliever in all of baseball. He throws just two pitches, and they’re both elite. Ridiculously so. His fastball averages 99 mph. With his deceptive [delivery] and excellent extension, it’s perceived to average about 101 mph. Sometimes it’s even faster. When they swung, hitters fouled it off 41 percent of the time. They whiffed 35 percent of the time. That leaves about 24 percent of swings as a ball in play.

“With Capps, it just seems a matter of time before somebody puts a barrel on a fastball. Even Aroldis Chapman allows the occasional extra base hit. Capps’ fastball allowed just one double and one home run. His elite velocity should keep him in the discussion for best reliever in baseball.”

### Besides Ramos and Capps, Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris will be in the bullpen, Phelps presumably will be if he isn’t the fifth starter and Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington have a good chance to stick. Veteran left-hander Craig Braslow, with the Red Sox the past four years, must pitch well this spring for the Marlins to keep him and his $1.5 million salary.

That’s eight relievers, with seven being the most the Marlins likely can afford to keep. And room likely would be made for Jackson if he’s effective in the spring but isn’t the No. 5 starter. So that’s nine. Injuries can sometimes sort these things out.

Difficult to see Hand (4-7, 5.30) sticking again after five years of underperforming. Though some believe Conley would be an effective reliever, the Marlins likely would want him to pitch as a starter at Triple A if he doesn’t win a rotation spot.

### The Marlins need a strong comeback year from Dunn, whose ERA rose from 2.66 to 3.16 to 4.50 the past three seasons, with 75 base-runners allowed in 54 innings in 2015. He had 23 holds, no saves and three blown saves last season.

He still throws hard (65 strikeouts), but his location wasn’t as sharp. Morris (5-4, 3.14, 18 holds, two blown saves) is competent, but batters hit .275 off him.

### Really curious to see what two pleasant surprises (Barraclough and Ellington) can do this year.

Barraclough, acquired from St. Louis for Steve Cishek, exceeded expectations: 2.59 ERA in 24 innings and a .154 average against.

Ellington, a 16th-round draft pick in 2012, also impressed: He throws in the high 90s, was 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA, and batters hit .193 off him.

Beyond Capps, the Marlins have “a phalanx of guys who throw 96-100 like Kyle Barraclough, Brian Ellington, Bryan Morris, Jose Urena,” Peter Gammons said. “It is not out of the realm of possibility that with the staff they have assembled and paid for to work pitching — Jim Benedict, Juan Nieves for starters—the Marlins could have the best bullpen in the National League East come July.”

So the bullpen isn’t burdened, it’s so important that the fourth and fifth starters get the Marlins deep into games. A healthy, productive Cosart would help.


### Before learning today that Beno Udrih would need season-ending foot surgery, the Heat was disinclined to sign a player to the veteran’s minimum until the range of March 8, because committing to a player for the remainder of the year before that point would push the Heat back over the tax threshold.

Another way to avoid the luxury tax is Miami could sign a player to a 10-day contract now and then cut him and leave the roster spot open for a while. But no high-quality point guards have been cut or bought out in recent days. John Lucas III and Tony Wroten are among those available.

And the Heat can look at it this way: After working nearly eight months to get below the tax threshold, why would Miami blow it by adding an 11th man for the next two weeks?

If the Heat waits until March 7/8, the Heat will consider players from a list it has compiled –-- one that includes Dorell Wright,  Wroten, Jordan Crawford, Jason Thompson, D-League players and some others likely to be available.

### Pat Riley hasn't spoken to South Florida media in the past couple of weeks, but his comments to the team's web site Tuesday made it clear that he doesn't want to pay a luxury tax this season, with the tax far more onerous for repeater teams -- which Miami was positioned to be this season before dropping below the tax threshold.

“You’ve got to really see the big picture in where you are,” Riley said. “From 2014 to this point, once LeBron [James] left, we had some decisions to make. We had always been looking at 2016 and 2017. Just like back in 2006 we looked at 2010. That’s where our mind is. We want tremendous flexibility. We don’t want to be constrained by any repeater tax. 2016 and 2017 have become the new 2010.

“What happens in ’16 and ’17, are the next two years of being able to build this team back to a championship contender. That’s our goal. That’s my goal.”

### Because Goran Dragic is a kind, quiet soul who wants to fit in and not step on toes, he admits it's difficult sometimes to assert himself when playing with Dwyane Wade.

But Wade and coaches told him that he should continue being aggressive even with Wade back in the lineup on Monday, and Dragic's 24 points against Indiana were the second-most he has ever scored when playing alongside Wade.

"Not only D-Wade, but coaches [also] said they need me to be who I am, to be myself, to be aggressive, to move the ball and create for others," Dragic said Tuesday. "Finally, I can say I feel really comfortable with this situation right here right now."

### With 25 points and 23 rebounds and 19 and 18 in his past two games, Hassan Whiteside (per Elias) became the first player with back-to-back games of at least 18 and 18 since LaSalle Thompson did that for Kansas City in 1984.

### With the NFL Combine starting, I asked NFL Network's Mike Mayock on a conference call today about what would make sense with Miami's pick at No. 8. He seemed most enthusiastic about Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

If Hargreaves "went 8th to Miami, it would be a heck of a pick," Mayock said. "He's that good. The most natural corner in the draft is Hargreaves. Great feet, change of direction, can play press, can play off. There's going to be a lot of conversation about whether [FSU's] Jalen Ramsey is a corner or safety.

"[As far as] linebackers, in the 4-3 type group, Myles Jack should be healthy. He and Jaylon Smith [whose 2016 status is in question after knee surgery] are by far the two best linebackers in that situation. A guy I think has gained a lot of steam in the last month is Darron Lee from Ohio State. He's kind of a weak outside linebacker. He probably will run in the 4.4s and everyone is going to get all excited about Darron Lee. He's more of a 20 to 32 [first-round range] guy for me. But he's going to go in the first round and he fits what Miami does.

"As far as edge guys are concerned, defensive end [Joey] Bosa is probably gone. Then you get into [Eastern Kentucky's] Noah Spence. I think he fits a 3-4 team a little bit better [than Miami's 4-3]. But in today's day and age, an edge rusher is an edge rusher."

### The Dolphins want to re-sign linebacker Spencer Paysinger, who had 25 tackles and played well on special teams in 14 games. Jelani Jenkins, Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt are the other linebackers seemingly most likely to return. The Dolphins want to upgrade over free agent Kelvin Sheppard and under-contract Koa Misi remains at risk.

### Please see the last post for details on UM's pursuit of University of Texas safety Adrian Colbert, who visits Miami's campus this weekend.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

February 22, 2016

UM bringing in veteran Big 12 safety for visit; Postscripts, reaction, thoughts from riveting Heat, UM wins tonight; Dolphins dip into Canada for another pass-rusher; More praise for Gase

Quick 10 a.m. update: UM, searching for immediate help at defensive back, this weekend will host Adrian Colbert, who appeared in 38 games at Texas and would be eligible to play in 2016 because he's graduating from Texas in May.

Colbert made only four starts at Texas and lost his starting job to freshman Jason Hall in 2014. He appeared in 12 games as a reserve last season but wasn't credited with a single tackle. He has one career interception.

But even though Colbert wasn't an impact player for the Longhorns, UM is desperate for depth at both safety and cornerback. If he enrolls, he would have a chance to crack Miami's top four at safety, alongside Jamal Carter, Rayshawn Jenkins and Jaquan Johnson. Robert Knowles and three freshmen summer arrivals (Cedrick Wright, Jeff James and Romeo Finley) also will be competing for playing time.

Colbert, who has one year of eligibility remaining, was rated a four-star prospect and the fifth-best safety in the 2012 class by 247sports. Rivals thought slightly less of him as a Texas prep prospect, rating him a three-star prospect and the No. 24 safety.

"Let's see what the U is all about this weekend," Colbert tweeted, before retweeting several friends who are under the impression that he's going to be a Hurricane.

Last week, UM brought in JC receiver Dayall Harris, and he immediately joined the program. UM has been seeking veteran help at receiver, cornerback and safety because of shaky depth at each of those positions.


What a stirring night of hoops, between the Heat’s 101-93 overtime win against Indiana and No. 12 UM’s 64-61 win over No. 3 Virginia.

Some postscripts and reaction:

### Very encouraging to see Goran Dragic continue his excellent work (24, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) even with Dwyane Wade back in the lineup. Miami entered tonight having been outscored by one point this season when Wade and Dragic are in the game at the same time.

But Dragic was more assertive than he often is playing with Wade, just as he had been the past two games without Wade in the lineup. Dragic took 17 shots (making 10) and ran the offense on many possessions late in the game and overtime, though Wade still had the ball in his hands a lot.

“He looked like he had the most energy, so we put the ball in his hands,” Erik Spoelstra said of Dragic. “He was relentless. Looked like he was getting stronger as the game went on. Now he understands everyone on the team wants him to be [aggressive offensively].”

### Hassan Whiteside said he never worried what coming off the bench could do to his bargaining position this summer, and with the numbers he’s posting, he has no reason to be. He came close to another 20/20 game tonight, with 19 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks.

Whiteside has done and said all the right things since his ejection against the Spurs before the All-Star break. Besides his staggering stats, he also has set several solid screens.

“We’re going to keep pounding you in the paint,” he said on Sun Sports. “I’m happy adapting to whatever’s on the floor. We’re running the floor, getting in the paint.”

Whiteside became the fastest player in Heat history to reach 1000 rebounds.

“What we feel really encouraged about was he built on the last game," Spoelstra said. "I’m excited to see where he will be in this stretch run and the progress he will make. The team has confidence in him. He’s gaining confidence and trust with the team.”

### More filling the box score tonight from Justise Winslow (15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 assists). Miami was plus 29 in his 40 minutes, which Spoelstra thought looked almost like a misprint.

“He’s wise beyond his years,” Spoelstra said. “This is a game for competitors. The real competitors will rise. That’s who he is. He made big plays on both ends. He was great, especially down the stretch.”

### Luol Deng shot errantly (5 for 18) but did a lot of things well, including 16 boards, and playing valiantly with two dislocations to the middle finger on his right hand. He said he will need to keep the fingers taped.

“Lu has been fantastic,” Erik Spoelstra said. “Last year, he was deferential. He’s become more active in his leadership this year. He’s filling in in a lot of different areas where we need it.”

### All of the above helped the Heat overcome the absence of Chris Bosh (no health update from Miami) and a 4-for-21 shooting night from Dwyane Wade, who had 16 points and five turnovers.

“He looked fine,” Spoelstra said. “He was obviously a little bit out of rhythm. His pull-up shots, he was off on those.” Spoelstra planned to play him 28 minutes but Wade was needed for 39.

### The Heat crushed Indiana on the boards, 66-45…. Miami (32-24) moved percentage points ahead of Boston for third in the East.

### Spoelstra: “We put Heat-Pacers on the board and said expect this to be much different from what we had the past couple of games.... It was rough at the beginning, but our guys stayed the course.”

### Pacers coach Frank Vogel on the Heat: “They’re not shooting threes [2 for 13 tonight]; they’re cutting, driving and crashing.”


### UM (22-5, 11-4) remains very much in play for a top three NCAA Tournament seed with this signature win against Virginia. Miami closed to within 1/2 game of ACC leader North Carolina.

### Davon Reed’s 21 points and five threes were a career high, and that, Miami’s grit and excellent work on defense allowed the Canes to overcome 3 for 10 shooting nights from both Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. Reed topped 20 despite taking only eight shots.

“Davon was sensational,” Jim Larranaga said. “Davon is such a great leader, mentally tough, very intelligent and he’s very skilled. What I liked so much about his game tonight is he looked very much calm."

### Don’t underestimate the rebounding, defense and physicality that Kamari Murphy has given this team, alongside Tonye Jekiri. He had 11 boards tonight.

### Fifty three hours after needing to be helped off with a painful bone bruise to his shin, Ja’Quan Newton gave UM his usual lift off the bench (six points, two assists).

### McClellan: “It was definitely an impressive win for us. The way we lost to Carolina, we felt kind of embarrassed, and we wanted to come back and respond the way we did tonight.”

### Larranaga: “I told the team every one gets knocked down. We got knocked down on Saturday. It’s how you respond to it. Our players showed what kind of winners they are by bouncing back. I thought Saturday [against UNC] our team looked anxious. Tonight we were very calm. We shared the ball.”

### Miami is 14-1 at home and 4-2 overall against ranked opponents…. Louisville visits Saturday, before UM closes ACC play at Notre Dame and at Virginia Tech.


Every time an NFL team signs a defensive end from the CFL, everyone always wonders if he will become the next Cam Wake.

Which brings us to Cleyon Laing, a rising talent with the Toronto Argonauts. Though nothing has been signed, he has agreed to terms on a three-year entry level contract with the Dolphins, a source said Monday, following reports in Canada.

Laing isn’t as heralded a prospect as Wake was coming out of the CFL, but the Dolphins are intrigued.

Laing had five NFL offers, including ones from the Jets and Patriots.

But the Dolphins were the most persistent, and the defensive coaching staff sent word that he would benefit learning from Wake and Ndamukong Suh, which carried weight with Laing.

Laing, 6-3 and 280 pounds, also felt well-suited to Miami’s 4-3 defense, where he can play end or tackle if he makes the team (and we're obviously a long way from him making the team).

He had 41 tackles, nine sacks and two formed fumbles for Toronto last season. His agent, Jonothan Hardaway arranged workouts for him with seven teams, including the Dolphins.

An Edmonton native, he had 3.5 sacks in four seasons of a nondescript college career at Iowa State. He has 15 sacks in 35 career CFL games.

### Dolphins center Mike Pouncey told The Finsiders today that he was impressed by new coach Adam Gase: “Really like him a lot. Young, very active coach. First time I talked to him, he was so easy to have a conversation with, very outgoing. You can see he’s a great coach. With him, I see us doing a lot of great things.”

Pouncey, on some other players:  “We’re all thinking [Ryan] Tannehill is going to do really well in this offense. I hope Lamar [Miller] signs back with us. [Olivier] Vernon is going to cost our team a lot of money. Hopefully we can retain him.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz      

February 20, 2016

Marlins, who have overvalued managers, believe Mattingly will be different; Buzz on Marlins newcomers; Fins, Heat, UM, Panthers notes


Owner Jeffrey Loria historically has placed too much importance in his manager; he has changed skippers nine times in 14 seasons, and of the first eight, only one (Jeff Torborg to World Series-winning Jack McKeon) made an appreciable difference.

Some say a manager is worth only a few wins a year, but this Marlins front office insists Don Mattingly’s value will far exceed that, because he’s a steady, proven winner guiding a roster that’s talented but hasn’t proven it can win as a group.

“I truly believe with the right man, this team can get over the hump,” Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said last week, calling Mattingly’s hiring the “single most important” move of the offseason.

Several players spoke last week about the impact a proven winner can have in their clubhouse, an impact even more pronounced after the failed Dan Jennings experiment --- which left Marlins players rolling their eyes because of his lack of managerial experience.

Third baseman Martin Prado put it this way Saturday: "Now we don't have to worry about the manager. We got a manager and a bench coach [Tim Wallach] that know what they're doing."

Marlins reserve Derek Dietrich had a long talk with Mattingly last month and was struck by his “knowledge, his wisdom, his passion to teach [which was apparent] right away. I’m so thrilled and encouraged by his will to help.”

Mattingly’s 55.1 winning percentage is second-best in Dodgers history and he made the playoffs in three of five seasons, albeit with an enormous payroll. Most players seemed to like and respect him; Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw liked how Mattingly was “so positive,… [and] fun to play for” while Dodgers catcher AJ Ellis called Mattingly “as humble as superstar as you’ve ever meet” and predicts he will win a World Series as a manager.

Only two of Loria’s previous managerial hires were experienced, successful big-league skippers. McKeon was a huge success here, Ozzie Guillen a flop.

McKeon likes Loria’s decision to hire a proven winner “rather than some rookie manager like we’ve had in the past. Players relate to that kind of guy.”

Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, who played for Mattingly in Los Angeles, said he’s “pretty easy to play for. He doesn’t call guys out [in front of teammates]. Never did. He’s a definitely behind-closed-doors type of manager. [Players] like that.”

Reliever AJ Ramos said it was “pretty cool” that Mattingly flew to Los Angeles in mid-January to take himself, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich to lunch at Smith & Wollensky.

Mattingly asked them for their opinions on what could be done better. Ramos said one suggestion was not allowing fans to “grab” them while they walk between fields in spring training. Mattingly has implemented that.

Mattingly insists he likes the idea of going from a record $270 million payroll with the Dodgers to $70 million here. “It’s definitely exciting for me, having a younger club, knowing we're not in the same position as the Dodgers, where we're not going to be able to fill up our roster with all kinds of signees. We're going to have to be able to develop our own guys, promote from within.

“That part, I love. I look at myself as a teacher. We have to teach and develop. I love the young guys. We've got a young team but an experienced young team.”

Mattingly’s 8-11 postseason record wasn’t good, but the Marlins would be thrilled simply to get there. And Wallach is considered a big help to Mattingly with in-game decisions.

“Mike Hill and I were both told specifically [by Loria], that this will be the last managerial hire of your career with the Marlins, so make it a good one,” Marlins president David Samson said.

Buzz on Miami’s other offseason pickups:

### Lefty Wei-Yin Chen. The positives: He gives the Marlins a legitimate No. 2 starter, has the 28th best ERA among all MLB starters over the past two seasons (3.44) and consistently ranks in the top 10 in fewest walks per nine innings. His fastball velocity of 91.6 ranks ninth among lefty starters since 2014, and he’s durable, with only one trip to the disabled list in four seasons (2013/oblique).

Also, Chen was exceptional against lefties last year (.233, compared with .274 vs. right-handers); only Dallas Keuchel, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw allowed a lower weighted on-base average against them.

“I’m a very big fan; he will be a fine No. 2 starter,” said a National League scout who has watched a bunch of his starts in person. “There’s deception, an ability to pitch with his fastball to all parts of the zone. There has been development of his changeup since he came to Baltimore. I always looked at him as a poor man's Tom Glavine. He's a real good sign for them, to put him in between those power right-handed arms.”

The concerns:  As ESPN’s Keith Law noted, even though he “kills left-handed hitters,... righties will continue to give him fits; they have a .457 career slugging percentage against Chen in his four seasons. He'll have to face a few NL East lineups that can be righty-heavy when needed, especially the Mets and Nats, which doesn't help his cause any.”

He’s also prone to allowing home runs. He relinquished 28 last season, sixth-most in the AL, after yielding 29 and 23 the previous two seasons.

But even though the Marlins have moved the fences in, his penchant for allowing the long ball shouldn’t be as big a problem here, considering this: More homers were hit in Baltimore’s Camden Yards than any ballpark last season. The second-fewest were hit at Marlins Park (behind only AT&T Park).

### New hitting coach Barry Bonds. Positives: Though Bonds has never served in the role with a team, Alex Rodriguez and Dexter Fowler rave about how Bonds helped them last offseason, and his eight days as an instructor with the Giants during 2014 spring training also left a mark.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, outfielder Angel Pagan said Bonds’ work with him that spring “opened my eyes a little bit. He was helped me for the season. He was really good.” Pagan --– who had hit .262, .288 and .282 the three previous seasons –-- then went on to hit .300 that season.

The scout, on Bonds: “He brings such a wealth of knowledge. If you listen to what he’s going to say, he can bring a lot to the table. Your biggest fear is does his ego come into play. If he disagrees with something with [assistant hitting coach] Frank [Menichino], is there a power play and then players can sense that.”

Bonds cracked today that he hopes his players don't think they know more than him, then admitted he's not going to "reach" all of his players. But he will try.

"It feels natural," he said of his new job. "Hitting is what I do. Baseball is what I love."

The concern: He hasn’t played since 2007 and the travel and the mundane responsibilities could grow monotonous. ``Yeah, I'm going to have some struggles, being back in the bus every day, riding everywhere,” Bonds said. “I haven't done that in a long time. I haven't lived out of a suitcase for a long time. But it is what it is.''

### First baseman/third baseman Chris Johnson. Positives: A career .314 hitter against left-handers, including .326 last season. Seems the ideal backup for Justin Bour.

The concern: Has fallen off since hitting .321 (second in the National League) for Atlanta in 2013. Hit .255 with three homers, 18 RBI for Atlanta and Cleveland last season.

“He's all right,” a Braves official said. “He's a bench guy, OK in the clubhouse. Like him against lefties. But if you have to play him regularly, it's going to be a problem.”

### Right-hander Edwin Jackson. Positives: Rebounded from two disastrous years as a starter with the Cubs by pitching very well for the Cubs and Braves in relief last season (3.07 ERA, .218 batting average against). The Cubs are paying $10.5 million of the $11 million he’s owed.

“We’re excited about him as much as anyone,” Hill said of the offseason acquisitions. “His stuff hasn’t diminished.”

The NL scout said: “I had a good report on Jackson when he was with Atlanta at the end of the year. He found his niche in the bullpen. Still a lot of power to his fastball and slider. He always has maintained his velocity. The issues with him are location and feel for pitching.”

The concern: Was horrible his last two years as a starter for the Cubs: 8-18, 4.98 in 2013, 6-15, 6.33 in 2014. He will compete for one of two open rotation spots.


### Among many things the Dolphins like about Ryan Tannehill is he doesn’t make a lot of bad decisions, though he did make a couple of glaring ones in the red zone last season.

In fact, ESPN’s KC Joyner tells us Tannehill made bad decisions on just 0.7 percent of his throws in 2015, ranking in the NFL’s top 10. “If you’re below one percent, that’s elite,” said Joyner, who identifies bad decisions as mental errors leading to a potential turnover.

Incidentally, Chicago’s Jay Cutler went from 1.5 percent in 2014 to 1.0 percent in 2015, his one year under new Dolphins coach Adam Gase.

### Agent Drew Rosenhaus said on his WSVN-Fox segment that he expects his client, Bobby McCain, to replace slot corner Brice McCain, who was cut…. Denver impending free agent David Bruton, a quality backup safety and special teams ace, told The Denver Post that he hears Miami is among the teams interested in him.

### Please see the last two posts for 1000-plus words on the Heat tonight, including tidbits and reaction from the drubbing of Washington, and why Miami isn't positioned to add a bought-out player quickly. Couple other quick things from tonight:

The big question now becomes whether the Heat, which has scored 19 and 18 points above its season average the past two nights, can continue doing it when Dwyane Wade (and potentially Chris Bosh) return to the lineup.

"I'm not worried about that," Goran Dragic said. "We're going to find the right chemistry. I think we are going to be OK. We have already demonstrated we can play well together. Maybe it is going to change a little bit, especially the second unit. Maybe they are going to play a little bit faster. We'll see."

Dragic pointed to this adjustment, made this week, as a big help: Now, "if Lou [Deng], Justice (Winslow) and J Mac (Josh McRoberts) get the rebound, they are going to push the ball and we are going to run to the corners and try to play from there."

### Hassan Whiteside (25 points, 23 boards tonight) became the only player since 1983-84 to reach those thresholds in as few as 29:18 minutes.

### Paul Pierce approached Amar’e Stoudemire during the recent Clippers game and told him, ‘Welcome back from the dead.” Stoudemire, playing well after being taken out of mothballs, also has been hearing that type of sentiment from Chris Paul and others.

This recent stretch “gave me hope that I can play at a high level” at least into next season, he said. “Defensively, I’ve been playing at a level I haven’t been at. I’ve re-incarnated myself from the Phoenix days.”

And Stoudemire said “nobody can guard him one-on-one.”

His 18.3 rebounds per 48 minutes, entering the weekend, would rank sixth among all centers if he qualified, just behind Whiteside.

### A UM person said this new football staff wishes the former staff hadn’t burned redshirts of several freshmen last season, from cornerbacks Michael Jackson and Terrence Henley to tight end Jerome Washington and some young offensive linemen. Several had limited roles.

### The Panthers have begun preliminary contract talks with impending restricted free agents Vincent Trochek and Brandon Pirri, two more quality pieces in their young nucleus.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Details, reaction, tidbits from Heat's drubbing of Washington tonight

This assuredly ranks among the most remarkable statistics for this decade’s Heat: Miami is 14-3 when it plays without both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh since Bosh joined the franchise.

Faced with that predicament again Saturday against Washington, the Heat won for the fifth time in six games with both Wade and Bosh sidelined during the post-LeBron James era.

This 114-94 drubbing of visiting Washington was not only impressive but also aesthetically-pleasing, much like Friday’s short-handed win in Atlanta.

One difference from Friday: Hassan Whiteside was available, back from a one-game suspension. And he was brilliant.

Erik Spoelstra again used him off the bench, and Whiteside did all sorts of damage, with 25 points (matching a career high), a season-high 23 boards (the fifth 20-plus rebound game of his career) and two blocks in 29 minutes. He became the first player to produce at least 25 and 22 off the bench since Detlef Schrempf in 1992.

“I couldn’t wait to get back our here,” said Whiteside, who watched Friday’s Hawks game on TV with Tyler Johnson and was determined to fit into the suddenly faster Heat pace.

Throw in more terrific work from Goran Dragic (24 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, no turnovers) and Luol Deng (27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists), and that was more than enough to dispatch a Washington team playing its third game in as many nights, a scheduling snafu necessitated by a January snow storm.

As for Bosh, he did not attend the game and the Heat again declined to give any update on his status. Bosh has been dealing with a blood clot in his calf, while trying to determine the feasibility of a return at some point this season.

Wade missed his second game in a row with left knee soreness, but “everything came back negative [with the MRI],” Spoelstra said. “He’ll be day-to-day from here. He’s already started to feel better.”

From the sports-is-strange category: The Heat, which had only 10 players available Saturday, went to the All-Star break averaging 96 points per game, ahead of only Philadelphia. Without its two leading scorers, Miami scored 115 on Friday and 114 on Saturday.

One big reason for that: The Heat, with Dragic unshackled, is playing at a faster pace.

“I know this is fun and fans love to see this,” Spoelstra said. “I know our players like to do it.”

A night after reaching 30 points and double figures in rebounds for the first time since 2007, Deng was again active and efficient, closing 11 for 18 from the field.

He said the move to power forward “has been helpful,” especially because the Heat is allowing him to dribble the ball up the court. “We’re moving the ball,” Deng said. “Everyone is cutting. We’re playing fast.”

Dragic attempted 11 first-half shots --- more than he ever had in his full calendar year with the Heat – and closed 9 for 20. Dragic even blocked a John Wall jumper.

“It’s really fun,” Dragic said of playing at a faster pace, a tempo he thrived in with Phoenix. “Everybody is loose, everybody is playing free-minded, trying to push the ball.”

Whiteside, meanwhile, has played so well off the bench that Spoelstra seemingly has little incentive to change that, at least for now. Even without starting, he went to halftime with a double-double (12 points, 14 boards).

Whiteside, who made 11 of 15 shots, entered ninth in the NBA in ESPN’s efficiency ratings, behind only eight All-Stars, and sandwiched between No. 8 Chris Paul and No. 10 DeMarcus Cousins. Wade, at No. 30, and Bosh, at 33, are the next Heat players on that efficiency list.

“The next challenge I told him is the consistency,” Spoelstra said. “Hassan was fantastic doing all the little things.”

There were other nifty snapshots: A Josh Richardson three, a Beno Udrih spinning drive and basket, a snazzy Josh McRoberts
dribbling exhibition and an alley-oop to Whiteside for a dunk, and a Justise Winslow running hook shot with the shot clock ticking down. Winslow, incidentally, had to go to the locker-room briefly in the first half to treat a lacerated forehead.

Whiteside said "I wasn't worried about the trade deadline. I'm just excited to be back in front of Heat nation. I make a mistake. I'm not perfect. During our meeting [with Spoelstra], we were talking about bringing energy off the bench. My teammates made it easy on me. I was pushing the ball and getting in transition. I watched the Atlanta game, studied how fast they were playing."

The Heat (31-24) moved to within one half game of Boston for third in the Eastern Conference.

Please check back in a little while for the Sunday buzz column, with Marlins, Dolphins, Canes, Heat and Panthers... And check the last post for an update on the Heat's situation with regard to buyouts... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz