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Deck chairs on the Titanic? Even with Heat whole, Spoelstra wholly unimpressed

MIAMI — The constant the past two weeks for the Miami Heat has been the losing, the skid at six games going into Monday night’s matchup against the Phoenix Suns at Kaseya Center. But what has changed, somewhat dramatically, has been the rotation.

Even in defeat, that was evident in Saturday’s 125-109 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, as the wheel of permutations took another spin.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. returned after missing six consecutive games with a strained left groin.

Kevin Love was back after missing the previous 1 1/2 games with a stomach illness.

Josh Richardson was held out by coach’s decision, after seeing action in all 36 previous games he had been available.

— And after Saturday’s game, with the rotation whole with the exception of guard Dru Smith being out for the season following December knee surgery, Orlando Robinson, Cole Swider and RJ Hampton were sent to the G League Sioux Falls Skyforce.

For Jaquez, the return came in reserve, after he had started his previous seven appearances.

“I felt great. I felt at 100 percent,” Jaquez said after closing with six points on 1-of-3 shooting in 23:41, citing the work Jeff Ruiz, the Heat’s senior director of rehabilitation, had done to get him ready. “I’ve been working with him every single day. See we’re very confident in the work that we put in and I felt great.”

But amid the Heat’s struggles, coach Erik Spoelstra did not hold back when stressing that more still is needed, with the Heat outscored by 18 with the No. 18 pick in last June’s draft on the court.

“There are definitely some things defensively that he needs to fast track on and he knows that,” Spoelstra said of Jaquez. “But offensively, you can definitely see some of the intangibles that he brings.

“He just has a knack for the play, a knack for getting us some rim pressure and we need a lot more of that.”

Love was limited to 13:50 in his return, with two points and two rebounds, uneven in four games back after missing three with a bruised left knee.

With Jaquez and Love back, and with Spoelstra just going nine deep against the Knicks, it left Richardson and center Thomas Bryant, the Heat’s two offseason free-agent veteran additions, as the lone available players not to see action in New York.

Spoelstra said it is about more than being whole, instead seeking a roster wholly committed to doing what is needed to move past this slide.

“It doesn’t matter, really. There’s been moving parts,” he said. “We’ve shown that we can win this season during those times when guys have been in and out of the lineup.

“I don’t want our group leaning on rotations and having everybody available. It is about how we’re competing and how we’re imposing our will on games to put ourselves in a position to win, regardless of all that. All that stuff can be excuses, and we need to focus on doing what we need to do to win, regardless of what’s out there.”

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Amid the slide, the Heat again find themselves amid the East play-in seeds, out of the top six that automatically advance to the best-of-seven opening round of the playoffs.

While it is a path the Heat took to last season’s NBA Finals, the play-in path hardly is one of least resistance, not one that provides comfort based on the 2023 results.

“Every season is different,” Spoelstra said. “One thing doesn’t lead to another necessarily in this league. And our team is different, our personnel is slightly different. And the journey we’ve been on is different.

“I don’t even want our guys talking or thinking about last year. We’re trying to conquer where we are right now. And to do that, you have to take the first step. And that’s the present moment.”

Injury report

The only players listed on the Heat’s injury report for Monday are the three sent to the G League (Robinson, Swider and Hampton) and Smith (knee). All other are available.