Miami Starts Season With New Look

Monday, October 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) — Pat Riley is beyond mourning.

The Miami Heat coach begins his 19th NBA season Wednesday without a dominant center for a change. Alonzo Mourning will be sidelined all season by a kidney disorder discovered at the start of training camp.

The loss of the big man cast a pall over the team, not just because of basketball, and Riley was especially shaken. But after watching his players stumble to a 1-5 preseason record, Riley said they must come to terms with no Zo.

``It's a good excuse right now,'' he said. ``If they want to use that as an excuse, I'm sure they will. But I'm not buying that.''

Riley revamped the roster this summer with a series of moves to give Mourning his most talented supporting cast yet. The Heat, eliminated in the playoffs by the New York Knicks each of the past three years, were widely touted as the Eastern Conference favorites.

Now the All-Star center is out, which means this season presents a rare challenge to Riley. For eight of his nine years in Los Angeles, he had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He had Patrick Ewing for four years in New York and had Mourning for the past five seasons in Miami.

The starting center in Wednesday's opener against Orlando probably will be Duane Causwell.

``They'll miss the big fellow,'' said Magic forward Grant Hill. ``But Riley is a great coach, and he'll think of something. They'll still be one of the top teams in the East.''

Mourning's absence means more prominent roles for newcomers Eddie Jones, Brian Grant and Anthony Mason. Jones, a three-time All-Star guard, and Mason came to Miami from Charlotte in a nine-player trade. Grant was then acquired from Portland in a three-team deal after signing a seven-year, $86 million deal.

They've had to learn a new system and 257-page playbook Riley hastily revised when the Heat lost Mourning. Ragged preseason play was perhaps to be expected, but it nonetheless strained the coach's patience.

``Brian and Mason and Eddie Jones have to grasp what we're doing and what we're about a lot quicker than they have,'' Riley said. ``We've been very simple with what we're trying to do because we don't want to overload them, and they're having a hard time.''

Only one returning starter figures to be in the opening-night lineup — 34-year-old point guard Tim Hardaway, hobbled the past two seasons by injuries that forced him to settle for a one-year contract this season.

``The key is Hardaway,'' Orlando coach Doc Rivers said. ``Will he stay healthy?''

Depth is another worry, because Riley had to sacrifice much of his bench to acquire Jones, Mason and Grant. Swingman Dan Majerle returns at age 35, and the rotation also will include guard Anthony Carter and forward Bruce Bowen.

Without Mourning, the Heat will run more and play part of the time with the 6-9 Grant at center and 6-8 Mason at power forward. That could mean trouble on the boards and with interior defense.

No excuse is necessary: Mourning will be missed.

``He's a guy who brings so much — rebounding, defense, scoring,'' Jones said. ``There's going to be a period before you get over that. At least we know the situation. We know he's not going to be here.

``We just have to try harder, try more, try better.''