The Miami Heat are currently several games under .500 at the midway point of the season.
Just two weeks before the All-Star Game, the Heat are a below-average team, and have been that way since they began the season as the Eastern Conference’s last remaining undefeated team at 3-0 in early November.
For a franchise that has become accustomed to contending for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference over the last four seasons with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they have made it a habit of being an underwhelming team thus far during the 2014-15 season.
And things just got worse in a season that has been full of disappointments—Wade will now be out for the next two-to-three weeks due to a hamstring injury.
Following a season-worst 36-point loss to the Houston Rockets on January 3, Bosh answered the question of whether or not this Heat team can be any good:
“I’m a pretty optimistic guy, so I’m always going to say yeah, but I haven’t seen it yet. We can keep talking for the whole time like next week, next month, next season, but it’s going to keep going until we change it.”
Since that loss to the Rockets, not much has changed—the Heat have gone 6-6 in the 12 games since.
As has been the case for the entire season, the first month of the New Year has been an up-and-down one. After that 36-point blowout loss to Houston, the Heat went on a five-game road trip where they went 3-2 on the West Coast. During the “Big Three” era, Miami never went over .500 on their annual West Coast road trip.
The Heat would then win their next two games, including an inspiring effort by Hassan Whiteside versus the Chicago Bulls, where he posted a triple-double. That was quickly forgotten and overshadowed when the Heat lost to the Milwaukee Bucks a couple nights later, with Wade going down due to injury.
So the question begs, can the Heat make the playoffs without D3? Is this team capable of even playing close to .500 ball without their franchise player?
At the current moment, Miami stands just two games ahead of the ninth-seeded Brooklyn Nets. As is the case every year, the bottom of the Eastern Conference does not look pretty—the Hornets are 19-27 and currently occupy the eighth spot in the East. Meanwhile, the Nets are 18-27 and have gone 2-8 in their last 10 games.
By default of how bad the East is, that would mean the Heat have one of the last two playoff spots locked up, even without Wade, right?
Well, it’s gonna be harder than it looks.
The Bucks, who are currently the sixth-best team in the East, have already defeated Miami in all three of the contests played so far this season. Meanwhile, the Hornets are up 2-1 in the season series with the Heat with one more game to be played toward the end of the regular season.
The good news for the Heat is that they have already won the season series with the Nets, having defeated Brooklyn in all three games played. Therefore, Miami holds the tiebreaker in the event of a season-ending tie between the two squads.
In addition to Wade’s injury, the Heat have used a number of different lineups all season long, with every player in the rotation having made at least one appearance in the starting lineup so far this season. Josh McRoberts, the team’s projected starting power forward entering the season, made just 17 appearances before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Bosh commented on the team’s inability to remain healthy this season, via Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald:
“It’s just so difficult and disappointing not to be at full strength or at least 75 percent. We don’t even have a steady lineup to work with, so nobody is getting in rhythm, nobody is getting used to anything and we’re dealing with the consequences.”
With Wade out for an “extended period of time,” the Heat will now likely shift to a starting lineup featuring Whiteside, Bosh, Luol Deng, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Depending upon the matchup, Cole and Shabazz Napier will likely alternate at the point guard position.
“Nobody is feeling sorry for themselves. We are still in a position where we can do something.”
While Spoelstra may believe his team is capable of competing without its franchise player, the stats tell a different story—while the Heat remain strong on defense, ranking second in the league in points allowed, the defensive play is offset by the sloppy offense, lack of ball movement and inability to grab rebounds throughout every game.
Miami ranks 28th in points, 29th in assists and 30th in rebounds per game.
And now, they’re about to lose the guy that leads the team in points and assists per game.
Assuming the timetable for Wade’s injury is correct, the Heat will have played just seven games without the veteran guard by the time he returns. Which means by the time D3 is back, Miami will have played 52 games on the season.
At the same time however, the team has to hope injuries don’t continue to hamper Wade for the remaining two months of the regular season. He has already missed 10 games this season, and has missed double-digit contests in each year over the last four seasons.
If Whiteside continues to have an impact on both the offensive and defensive sides of the game, and Bosh shows off his ability to be a No. 1 option on this offense, the Heat should be able to hang on to clinch one of the last two remaining playoff spots. Even if Charlotte overtakes Miami in the standings, the Nets have been in a downfall over the past couple of months and have shown no resistance in their meetings with the Heat this season.
While the Heat should advance to the postseason for the seventh consecutive season, there is little doubt that this team needs to get healthier and requires more depth for next season if they hope to truly make an impact in April and beyond.