Just a little less than a month ago, the Miami Heat looked like a lottery team. They held an 11-30 record, and were barely a rung above the lowly Brooklyn Nets. But then they strung together 9 straight wins – most recently against the Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday night – and Dion Waiters burst forth from whatever chrysalis he’d been sleeping in. Some healthy play, a little hunger for winning, and suddenly the Heat become the hottest team in the league.
Winning certainly feels good. And this jolt of life would inspire any Miami fan who’s turned their back from the team since LeBron James and Dwyane Wade left the building. But what does this mean now for Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley’s squad? Should they ride the momentum toward a Playoffs spot? Reverse direction and start tanking again?
Mind you, the victories they’ve secured over this 9-game winning streak haven’t been easy. Sure, they had the luck of running into some bottomdweller teams. They beat the Brooklyn Nets twice, blazed past the Detroit Pistons, and tripped the Dallas Mavericks. But, in over this stretch, they’ve also beaten the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors, both Western Conference powerhouses.
Flukes? Well, probably. The Miami Heat are unlikely to beat either of those teams in a seven-game series, and strong teams have been known to lower their guard against perceived weak ones.
But there have been some genuine sparks of brilliance over this stretch. Goran Dragic (19.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists per game) is making a case for future All Star votes. Hassan Whiteside (16.6 points, 13.7 rebounds per game) gets to work in the paint, every time he steps on the court.
But the biggest breakout of all arguably belongs to Dion Waiters, who hit a winning 3-pointer that was heard all over South Beach against the Warriors. His 15.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists reflect encouraging jumps from his young career averages. And most notably, he’s been named NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week for Jan. 23-29. Who needs D-Wade, when you’ve got D-Wait?
To Tank Or Not To Tank?
While winning is great, fans may be confused. Are the Miami Heat going strong, at the expense of a good draft pick? Shouldn’t they be tanking?
No, argues Brandon Di Perno of SB Nation fan site Hot Hot Hoops. “Pat Riley doesn’t tank. He prefers to build around veterans and stay consistently good. Any big changes are usually made in the form of star acquisitions.”
The Heat have made this kind of turnaround before. Back in the 2003-04 season, they found themselves at 25-36 halfway through the season, but managed to finish at 42-40. They made the second round of the playoffs that year.
It’s a new era for the Miami Heat, and you can expect that this young core will keep fighting. You know how it goes: trust the process. Get better, slowly, but surely. Give it time. They’ll be climbing soon.