MIAMI – James Jones could probably start for several NBA teams. In Miami, he typically doesn't get off the bench.
That is, until times like now, when the Heat need him.
Jones played a total of 70 minutes in Miami's first 70 games this season. He's logged 104 minutes in the last four contests, all Heat blowout victories, all in a stretch where they climbed atop the Eastern Conference standings for the first time this season. It's also another reminder that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra may have tough decisions to make when deciding on Miami's playoff rotation.
File it all under "nice problems to have" for the coach of the two-time defending NBA champions.
"We have some unique individuals that want to be a part of something special," Spoelstra said. "But we understand that with the injuries, our lineup has been fluid. Any regular-season has proven it and in the postseason it's always been proven, but the regular season right now has definitely proven that you have to be ready because your number will likely be called at some point. James Jones is a perfect example of that."
With Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and Ray Allen (flu) both out of the lineup over the past week, the Heat had a void on the perimeter and decided to dust off Jones. From Jan. 18 through March 26, the Heat played 31 games, and Jones didn't play a single second in any of them.
On March 28, he was starting in yet another new Miami lineup, which has seemed to happen about every other game or so this season.
"I think this season is different than any season I've been a part of," Heat forward LeBron James said. "I've never been a part of 19 starting lineups."
The next-man-in philosophy has become the Heat way, and it's something that's accepted — grudgingly at times, perhaps — in a locker room that preaches sacrifice above just about everything else.
"The first couple years, it was tough," Jones said. "I was (angry), trying to control what I couldn't control. Then I realized that regardless of what I did, we had a rotation, we had a scheme, we had guys that worked well together and my ultimate goal is to win. And so if you're winning, you do whatever is best to win. My thought changed from trying to control minutes and worry about that to just be ready, and make it hard for coach not to play me."
So far this season, Spoelstra has inserted 14 players into the starting lineup, and the rotation has changed too many times to count. In short, he's got plenty of options to choose from, which can be both a blessing and a curse.
Wade has missed about one-third of the season, mostly because the team put him on a schedule designed to preserve his knees, though his latest absences were caused by a balky hamstring. Jones and Udonis Haslem were forgotten for much of the year, before becoming key parts of late. Shane Battier has been a starter; he's now basically out of the rotation. So is Michael Beasley, at least in eight of Miami's last 11 games.
And with Wade, Allen and Greg Oden (back spasms) all on the cusp of returning, fewer minutes will potentially be up for grabs for the likes of Jones, Haslem, Rashard Lewis and Toney Douglas — who's been starting, and is someone James in particular raves about, saying it was a "steal" for the Heat to be able to add him midseason.
"Because we don't play doesn't mean we can't," Jones said. "We've got guys who can really play."