Highlights courtesy of STAY Highlights
As the plethora of teams that are vying to round out the Eastern conference playoffs continues to resemble a knife fight in a phone booth there’s a surprise team that has emerged as the cream of the non top 3 crop (or maybe not that surprising given their recent history). The Miami Heat looks to be up to their old tricks as they have won seven of their last eight and is currently sitting at the fourth spot in the East just a game behind the defending conference champs Cleveland Cavaliers. As you remember last year’s Heat squad gained notoriety for essentially dousing the league in gasoline and yoga flaming EVERYBODY in the second half of the season just to fall short of making the playoffs via losing a tiebreaker to the Bulls.
The current iteration of the Heat is surging their way up the East standings despite dealing with multiple injuries (they’ve trotted out 13 different starting lineups thus far) and without any type of star power. Losing second leading scorer Dion Waiters (14.3 PPG) for the season presents another roadblock however this occurred before their run. Surely this isn’t to say that the Heat are an overall better team without Waiters because that would be madness but this does reflect on the culture of discipline and hard work present in South Beach that is respected and even envied around the league.
It’s hard to imagine the Heat experiencing anywhere near the success they have without Goran “The Dragon” Dragic. Averaging 17 points and 5 assists per contest for the season he has really fueled their surge with averages of 22-5-8 on 48% shooting. Dragic has never been a big numbers guy but he passes the eye test at every turn.
His ability to direct the offense and almost always make the best play given the situation is uncanny be it scoring himself, tossing a dime for the score or even setting the offense into motion that will result in a score even if he doesn’t get the assist (which he does A LOT). Since Wade’s departure he’s been able to really make his mark develop a real sense of ownership on this team specifically in terms of developing relationships with their young core of role players and helping speed a learning curve that is normally pretty steep once factoring the pressure of playing for a franchise with such a rich tradition.
This rapid development of their youth has manifested itself in seeing the Heat become one of the deeper teams in the league. They easily sport one of more formidable two deep rosters in the association playing 10 guys at least 15 minutes per contest on average. Josh Richardson is probably the most notable byproduct of this philosophy. Called on to start at both wing spots throughout the year he has proven to be a solid starter in both spots. Averaging 13 points per night and an absolute terror on defense. His shooting has been especially helpful during their recent run as he’s canned nearly 47% of his triples. Tyler Johnson has done a fine job swinging between the guard spots despite his shooting struggles. With Waiters out the Heat still have a deep threat in Wayne Ellington who is shooting 40% from deep for the season.
The Miami frontcourt also sports a pretty impressive scoring kick. Kelly Olynyk has been a great addition to the Heat as it provides them even more spacing by normally pulling a capable rim protector away to account for him. And as long as his 41% make rate from deep holds true we can count on them enjoying same spacing. This allows Hassan Whiteside and James Johnson to get loose. JJ has a bit of shooting stroke although it’s nothing to count on but he’s pretty capable scoring consistently closer to the basket. Whiteside is the true man in the middle living up to his reputation as one of the best true bigs in the league. He’s putting up 14 a night on 55% from the field. Although the Heat can’t point you in the direction of a single standout player having seven guys in their current rotation scoring double figures poses a different kind of headache to opposing defenses.
No matter the look if the Miami Heat’s roster year to year one thing that has been consistent throughout the Eric Spoelstra era is the emphasis on defense. In his 10 years in South Beach he’s only once coached a team that finished in the bottom half in defensive rating. Currently rankled 11th the Heat has a group of plus defenders. Richardson has been mentioned and we all know about Whiteside’s dominance at the rim but the Heat D has been helped by Justice Winslow when healthy and has gotten really good production out of rookie Bam Adebayo.
But what makes their defense so potent is the emphasis on team defense. Surely this is facilitated by always having one of the aforementioned plus defenders on the court but as a unit it is the execution of a philosophy that stresses discipline and effort that really sets them apart on this side of the ball. Their ability to physically trot out lineups that provide a nice balance of size and speed helps as well.
So as we now are into second half of the season we naturally posit who will breakout and how they will stack up as we start the mad dash towards the postseason. The Heat are absolutely in that conversation as well they should be. The only question is how far can they push it before simply being smart and feisty just isn’t enough?