The Miami Heat are in a tight race with the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, and the Charlotte Hornets for those final few Eastern playoff seeds. It’s been back and forth over the past few weeks and Miami are now in tenth place, just shy of a postseason berth with a record of 28-34. They lost a disappointing three in a row before an exciting one-point victory over the Warriors and a decisive win over the Nets to keep pace in this playoff race.
So what does this mean for the Heat’s postseason hopes?
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The Heat suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Phoenix Suns, a team who had up until then been on a 17-game losing streak. Woof. Not the best thing for morale in Miami. Prior to that, they lost to the 76ers and the Pistons, the latter a game they desperately needed to win in terms of their struggle to make the postseason. After their wreck of a game against the Suns, head coach Erik Spoelstra offered up some surprising positivity, “We’re still in a group — I don’t care what anybody else says — we’re in a group that’s fighting for something right now… And we still have every bit of an opportunity as those teams.”
But a couple of recent wins have kept the Heat afloat and helped buoy spirits in Miami. Particularly that last-second victory over the Warriors and the 29-point win over the Brooklyn Nets – a team that currently sits at seventh in the East – on Saturday. The Heat never even fell behind in that game. Spoelstra thinks his team’s offense is on the up and up right now. (Yes, we’re intentionally skipping over the Heat’s loss to the Rockets last Thursday, where they let a 21-point lead slip away and got dominated by an on-fire James Harden who scored an ungodly 58 points.) Anyway, against the Nets, the Heat shot 49.4% from the field and 41.1% from beyond the arc. And that’s without point guard Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside who were out with injuries.
So who’s key for the Heat right now as they push toward the playoffs?
First off, power forward Kelly Olynyk put up a game-high 25 points in their win over the Nets. He’s been doing a fab job filling in for James Johnson, who has been out with shoulder and knee injuries this season (though he may be able to play tonight against the Hawks). Olynyk has averaged 14.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in the past 10 games, though he’s put up more like 21.5 points in the past three games. Spoelstra likes him as a starter when they’re running a bigger lineup, and that’s clearly evidenced by the fact that Olynyk has started for 11 games in a row.
Another stand-in for Johnson, young player Derrick Jones, Jr. is also killing it. The 22-year-old put up 18 in their win against the Nets despite only averaging 7.3 points on the season. Jones was battling a knee injury on Saturday but that didn’t stop him from making an absurd slam dunk.
Shooting guard Josh Richardson is definitely the future of the Miami Heat. He leads the team in scoring with an average of 17.4 points per game. The 25-year-old out of Tennessee is taking more threes and averaging a career-high in points this season, his fourth year in the NBA. He’s a critical piece of this Miami Heat team and he’s improved hugely from last year. At times, he looks like he’s the only thing saving this team from crumbling into irrelevancy. When Richardson doesn’t play well, the Heat doesn’t play well. Period.
Richardson is great on and off the ball, and Miami is hoping he’ll become a leader in the locker room too. According to teammate Olynyk, “Josh has been unbelievable… He’s shooting the ball well and making plays, and defensively he’s always been there. He’s just super confident. He has really developed an all-around game, from making pull-up threes to getting to the basket and shooting free throws well.”
Justise Winslow is finally looking like he just might be crucial for the future of this Heat team as well. Miami had high expectations when they drafted the one-and-one player out of Duke tenth overall in 2015, but he’s just not been that great of a shooter, particularly when it comes to the three-pointer. Winslow has been starting this season due to Dragic’s injury and the third-year point guard is finally displaying some promise. He’s improved as a player and a ball handler, and though he’s still only averaging 12.5 points this season, Heat President Pat Riley said he believes Winslow is tough, versatile, and worth putting their confidence in.
Bam Adebayo is slowly gaining the trust of his teammates and coaches too. He’s only in his second year, but the 21-year-old center has been thrust into the spotlight to take over for the injured Whiteside. Adebayo is especially effective alongside Olynyk.
Supporting piece Rodney McGruder also put up 17 points in the win against the Nets.
Veteran favorite Dwyane Wade is still putting some points on the board too. He hit the game-winning shot over the Warriors last week and it was easily one of the best moments of the season. After all, this is his farewell tour. His one last dance. Will the Heat send him off in style?
Current President of the Heat Pat Riley thinks so. He is optimistic that the Heat will make the playoffs and meet all those high expectations that have been set for this team… even if it does come down to the wire (and it likely will). ESPN’s playoff odds, however, say the Heat only have a 27.6% chance of making the playoffs.
Guess we’ll have to watch and see…
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