Miami Heat Still Believe They Can Make Playoffs Despite Early Struggles

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The Miami Heat have been a bit of a revelation over the last two weeks. The team reached the halfway point of the season on Jan. 13, when they played their 41st game of the year and lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. That put them at 11-30 on the year.

Since then, they have not lost a game.

Currently, the Heat boast the NBA’s longest active winning streak with seven straight victories, including wins over the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. Surely, nobody expected Miami to rattle off seven straight after combining for a mere 11 wins over the first two and a half months of the season. However, if you ask members of the Heat themselves, they never doubted their potential, not even for a minute:

“Without trying to be corny or without trying to sound biased, it’s this organization,” Heat forward James Johnson said after the team’s seventh straight victory. “We breed champions around here and champion mentality on and off the court. We knew what we were doing when we were losing and we knew what we had to do better. Instead of complaining or making excuses about it, we just got it done in practice.”

Miami’s roster has changed drastically over the last couple of years, but one thing that never changes for Pat Riley‘s ball club is the expectation for greatness, night in and night out. When the team was spiraling downwards toward the abyss of the standings, at no point did anyone within the organization consider throwing in the towel. Now, having not lost a game in more than two weeks, the team is rejuvenated and has its sights set on a playoff push:

“Playoffs have always been the goal,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “We never threw this season away. We were just like ‘Hey man, we got injuries, but we’re not going to make excuses. We’re not a bad team.’ Even Steve Kerr was saying that we’re better than our record. Even when they beat us. I always said, ‘We’re better than our record.’ We’re building great habits. We had so many tough games where we built the mental toughness for it.”

Currently, the Heat hold the second-worst record in the East. However, looking at the standings, one could see how they could potentially rally for the eight seed before season’s end. As it stands, the Charlotte Hornets and the Chicago Bulls hold the seventh and eighth spots in the standings with identical records of 23-25. That means Miami is only five games back from a playoff spot.

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Furthermore, the eighth seed has finished with a 38-44 record, three out of the past four seasons. This season, however, the eight seed is projected to finish with 39 wins. Therefore, theoretically, all Miami would need to do to grab a playoff spot is finish the season by going 21-13 or better.

If you ask the Heat, that goal is certainly attainable:

“Definitely,” Goran Dragic said when asked about Miami’s potential for a playoff push this year. “Everybody wants to play in the playoffs. The best basketball is in the playoffs. Of course, we’re in a little ditch. But we’re climbing up. Hopefully that’s going to be enough for the playoffs.”

The Heat still have a ways to go, but even considering the possibility of a potential playoff appearance would’ve sounded like a pipe dream to Heat fans a few shorts weeks ago. Despite losing Chris Bosh before the start of the season, which was a huge blow in its own right, Miami has also endured an excessive pileup of injuries this year. In fact, no team has had players miss more time due to injuries than the Heat have in 2016-17.

Still, led by Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra and his unwavering positivity, the team hasn’t lost an ounce of its competitive edge, and it’s finally starting to pay off:

“We had great stretches of basketball even against the best teams out there,” Spoelstra said of Miami’s 1-5 road trip that preceded their winning streak. “We just weren’t able to put it all together, to close out games. But just as importantly, the days in between, the approach every single day not to feel sorry for ourselves or to deflect or come up with excuses, but just to try to get better. We started to grow closer on that road trip. That’s been a hallmark for this team all year long.”

Perhaps the most intriguing development to arise from the team’s current streak is the emergence of Dion Waiters. The uber-confident two-guard is averaging 25.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists over his last five games. If you ask him, though, the team’s success is more so due to the improving health of Miami’s roster.

“I think guys are finally healthy and we’re building that chemistry and that trust is there, and guys are being held accountable,” Waiters said. “Everything else is going to take care of itself.”

Whatever the reason (or reasons) may be, the Heat will surely ride this recent wave of wins as long as they can, in hopes of securing a shot at the playoffs.
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Grant is a life-long Miami Heat fan hailing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His earliest Heat memories involve Eddie Jones going off on opponents and hoping he'd become the next Michael Jordan. When that didn't pan out, a guy named Dwyane Wade came to Miami and Grant's fandom turned to obsession. He graduated with an English degree from the University of Central Florida and currently resides in Los Angeles.