During the first half of last season, the Miami Heat struggled to an atypical 11-30 start. It was, for the most part, the same Heat team that in 2015-16 won the Southeast Division title and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Head coach Erik Spoelstra and the rest of the Heat pulled themselves together and finished the season by going 30-11 during the second half. Only a tiebreaker kept them out of the postseason for just the second time in the past nine seasons. Can Miami pull off another second-half like last year?
It is definitely possible especially after what the Heat have done in their last 10 games. Miami has won eight of 10 beating the likes of Boston and Toronto, the East’s top two teams. They have done so without a bonafide star. When Gordon Hayward basically said ‘no’ to the Heat last offseason, Miami president Pat Riley, who knows a thing or two about winning in the NBA, decided to go with what is essentially a cast of nobodies.
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Before last season, Riley and the Heat went out and got point guard Goran Dragic who leads the Heat in scoring averaging 16.9 points per game. The problem with that deal is that it cost the Heat two first-round draft picks. Dragic, C Hassan Whiteside, G Dion Waiters, F James Johnson, and C Kelly Olynyk account for over $75 million of Miami’s payroll. What all that means is that the Heat does not have the luxury of adding anyone to the roster for the second half of the season.
That’s okay for Spoelstra who, prior to this season, was 722-440 (.609) in nine seasons with the Heat. Don’t forget the four trips to the NBA Finals and the two titles. The Miami Heat mentor has been able to scrape 23 wins out of his ragtag lineup during the first half of the 2017-18 season. Eight players average in double figures including Whiteside (13.9) and Olynyk (10.4) a pair of 7-footers who are equally adept on the defensive end and on the glass. Whiteside averages 11.6 rebounds per game and Olynyk 5.9.
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Spoelstra can go 10 players deep on the bench. All 10 play at least 20 minutes per game and contribute to a defense that is sixth in the league in points allowed per game. The Heat’s best player just may be second-year small forward Josh Richardson. The former Tennessee star scores 12.6 points per game and leads the team with 1.25 steals a game. Spoelstra’s closing lineup as of late features Richardson along with Dragic, Olynyk, Johnson, and Wayne Ellington, who averages 10.6 points coming off the bench. The ability of Richardson to create on offense as well as his abilities on defense have helped this 5-man unit destroy teams as of late.
The question is whether or not it can last. The Heat are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The one statistic that stands out in Miami is point differential. They are minus-50, an average of -1.3 per game, something that one doesn’t often see in a potential playoff team. Still, Miami is on pace to win 47 games and another 30-11 run to close the season would put them in the 52 to 53 range. If Spoelstra can continue to get the most out of his players, it is definitely doable.
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