Through the first 52 games of the season, the Miami Heat have a record of 22-30 at the All-Star break.
At the current moment, the Heat are barely hanging on to a playoff spot. They are currently slotted as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, just a game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets (21-31). Several other teams, such as the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers remain two games or less behind Miami.
Despite starting out the season 3-0 as the East’s last remaining undefeated team, the Heat have been in a never-ending struggle to get back to .500 since December. The last time Miami was actually at the .500 mark was December 5, before a 112-102 loss to the Atlanta Hawks dropped the Heat to a record of 9-10. Fast forward to more than two months later and Miami has won just 13 of 33 games played since.
The team has struggled through constant injuries, rebounding deficiency, defensive issues and a lack of scoring punch off of the bench. The dearth of quality play at the point guard position has been particularly troublesome. As a result, the Heat have been linked to acquiring point guards such as Jameer Nelson at the trade deadline in an effort to shore up poor play at the position.
While the negatives have clearly outweighed the positives, there have been some bright spots to the Heat’s 2014-15 season. The resurgence of Dwyane Wade as a top player in the league has been worth watching, as he leads the team in points (21.4) and assists (5.4) per game. The veteran shooting guard was recently named to his 11th consecutive All-Star game.
Outside of Wade re-establishing himself as the face of the franchise, the Heat have to be pleased with the development of Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside was a low-flier pickup off the free agent wire in late November and was expected to provide depth at the center position. Surprisingly, the 7-foot center has proved to be Miami’s best two-way and most consistent player since the beginning of the new year.
Since January, the 25-year-old has averaged 13.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game in 15 games. In four of those contests, he posted at least 15 boards. Whiteside also blocked a franchise-record 12 shots in the Heat’s 96-84 victory over the Chicago Bulls on January 25.
The emergence of Whiteside has been one of the biggest storylines in the NBA through the first half of the season. With the first half of the year in the books, what are some of the themes to look forward to during the second half of the season for the Heat?
Health of the Heat
Perhaps more than any team in the East, Miami has been absolutely decimated by injuries. Here are the number of games key players of the Heat have missed over the course of this season, listed in parenthesis—Wade (17), Chris Bosh (8), Luol Deng (6), Norris Cole (5), Danny Granger (22), Chris Andersen (16) and Josh McRoberts (35).
McRoberts has been out for the season due to a knee injury in December, while Wade will return to the lineup on February 20 versus the New York Knicks. With D3’s impending return, the Heat look to finally be fully healthy with the exception of McRoberts.
Should the Heat be able to have a normal functioning lineup featuring the likes of Wade, Bosh, Deng and Whiteside, it would come as no shock if Miami clinches their seventh consecutive playoff berth.
However, should the Heat continue to have key players out for various stretches as they have all season long, Miami will easily slip out of the playoff race.
Further Development of Whiteside
There has been no bigger emergence of a single player in 2014-15 than that of Whiteside.
Entering the season, the 7-footer had played in just 19 career games since entering the NBA in 2010. In fact, he hadn’t played in the NBA in three seasons before signing with the Heat in November.
As mentioned earlier, Whiteside has taken the league by storm by displaying all-around skills in the scoring, rebounding and blocks department.
While the play of the young center has been a positive development for the franchise, Whiteside’s performances have been wasted—the team is just 8-11 since the beginning of January.
If Hassan’s dominating play is to be taken advantage of, the Heat will need to start winning games by playing better as a unit.
Play of Young Talent
The Heat’s leading scorer off of the bench is Shawne Williams, who is averaging just 6.6 PPG. Miami averages just 92.8 PPG, which is the third-worst mark in the league.
How can the Heat cure their scoring woes? Real simple—their young talent needs to contribute more.
We know that Whiteside is the real deal. What we don’t know is whether or not Tyler Johnson, Shabazz Napier and James Ennis can contribute consistently at a high level. Johnson was recently signed to a full-season contract after playing on a couple of 10-day contracts. The rookie shooting guard led the team with 18 points in a recent loss to the San Antonio Spurs and scored 13 points while grabbing nine rebounds in a 83-75 victory over the Boston Celtics on February 1.
Unlike Johnson, Napier and Ennis have been with the team since the beginning of the regular season. However, both players have struggled with consistency and have been in and out of the rotation since late October. Napier is averaging just 5.1 PPG on 36.8 percent shooting from the field in 20.9 minutes per contest.
Despite a solid preseason, Ennis has slumped for most of the year. The rookie small forward puts up just four points a contest on 40 percent shooting.
If Miami is to make a push for the postseason over the next two months, the franchise needs its young pieces to mature a bit earlier than expected.
Push for Playoffs
The biggest concern for Heat Nation in the post All-Star break stretch will revolve around whether or not the Heat will make it to the playoffs.
Never mind the fact that Miami has played like a below average team for the entire season or that the Heat will likely make very little noise in April and beyond. For a team that entered the season hoping to repeat as Eastern Conference champions for the fifth consecutive time, expectations have now been lowered to merely hoping for a playoff spot.
As mentioned earlier, there are six teams contending for the Eastern Conference’s last two playoff spots. With the exception of the Nets, every one of those sub .500 teams have a better point differential than the Heat (-3.8, 11th in the East).
With the exception of Brooklyn, those aforementioned teams have something going for them. The Hornets hold a 2-1 season series advantage over Miami. The Pistons have played better as a team since ridding themselves of Josh Smith earlier in the season. The Pacers expect to have Paul George back in mid-March, while the Celtics have shown some cohesive play with their young core in winning four of their past five games heading into the All-Star break.
If the Heat are to advance to the postseason to defend their Eastern Conference crown, everything will have to fall in place for Miami.
What does that mean exactly?
That means everything that was mentioned earlier in this article will have to take place—the health of the key core, the further dominance of Whiteside and the continued development of the Heat’s young players off the bench.
If all three of those things fall into place, you can expect the Heat to be in the playoff mix by mid-April.