Save for a short time in the late ‘90s and early 2000s for the Indiana Pacers, I’ve only rooted for two teams in the NBA—the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat.
I haven’t really forgiven LeBron for leaving South Beach so my loyalties for the Purple and Gold are now lukewarm at best.
The Heat is a different story though. I’m no bandwagon Miami fan who began following the team only after James boldly proclaimed that he, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh will win “not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7” championships.
I also predated the 2006 Heat that won the Larry O’Brien trophy with an emerging Wade and a Shaquille O’Neal on a redemption tour.
The Miami Heat teams I remember were the ones anchored by Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Dan Majerle, and even the late Anthony Mason. Those teams were Pat Riley personified—full of grit, never backed down on anyone, and used defense as their calling card.
The 2003 version of the team was also fun to watch with rookie Wade, Udonis Haslem, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, and of course Eddie Jones managing to reach the second round of the playoffs following a 0-7 record to start the season.
I admit the past couple of seasons for Miami have been a cringe-fest. But the rollercoaster ride now serves as an epitaph to the only time Riles really bombed out on his free agent signings (Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside…OK Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger post-LeBron were worse, but at least they were cheap).
Which now brings us to the post-Wade era 2019-2020 Miami Heat. Let’s just say that this Jimmy Butler-led team has made me experience the full spectrum of emotions. They’ve won against the best (76ers, Raptors, and league-leading Bucks—all twice), but also lost to lottery bound squads (Timberwolves, Hawks, and the woeful Cavaliers).
I’m sure head coach Erik Spoelstra has lost a lot of sleep from this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation the Heat have been doing.
The mid-season trade for Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill may have also disrupted team chemistry. I also do miss Swiss Army Knife and consummate glue guy James Johnson, but if he and Justise Winslow were the price to pay to finally get rid of Waiters (and his space gummy bears) and get maximum cap space to lure the Greek Freak in 2021, then I’m onboard.
Injuries to Myles Leonard and off-the-bench fire-starter Tyler Herro may have also played a part in the Heat’s inconsistent play.
The team dropped seven of its last nine games and looked totally lost before Butler and Co. won three straight games to improve its record to 39-22 coming into yesterday’s matchup against Sunshine State rival the Orlando Magic.
The latest and most impressive victory among the three came at the expense of league-leading Milwaukee Bucks who are on pace for a 71-game season.
So what changed in the last three games—the play of Goran Dragic and Kelly Olynyk. The two best exemplify the adage that the best trades you’d ever make are the one you don’t.
Before the season started, The Dragon and The Big Canadian were supposed to go to the Dallas Mavericks to clear cap space for the Jimmy Buckets signing. But Mark Cuban’s team pulled out of the deal when they thought they were getting Derrick Jones Jr. instead of Dragic.
Dragic and Olynyk have been terrific off the pine the last three games. Against the Bucks, Olynyk scored 11 points in 11 minutes, including a behind-the-back dribble, step-back 3-pointer against a flailing Brook Lopez in the second quarter.
The Slovenian Sensation, meanwhile, more than made up for a terrible first half by scoring all of his 15 points in the final 24 minutes of the game. Not bad for a soon-to-be 34-year-old.
I’d be remiss not to mention the terrific play of all-stars Butler and Bam Adebayo. The latter has soldiered on despite some personal issues and is recording career highs in assists and rebounding in his first season in South Beach, while the 6’9” Adebayo has proved to all and sundry why he has a case for this season’s Most Improved Player award.
And there are undrafted players Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson. The latter I nicknamed Twin Towers (for obvious reasons).
Nunn may no longer be a Rookie of the Year favorite (Memphis’ Jan Morant has all but sealed that despite the incredible play of Monstar Zion Williamson), but he’s slowly developed a passing game to complement his already diverse offensive package.
The 6’8” Robinson, meanwhile, has continued his streak of making more than two triples in a game to 19. While he still remains a liability on defense, the former Division III player from little-known Williams College is a crucial floor spacer for Miami and can turn it on anytime from the land of plenty.
DJJ has tapered off a bit since becoming a starter in place of Leonard, but the 2020 Slam Dunk champion could still be counted on for at least a couple of high-wire acts a game.
Off the three new acquisitions, Crowder has been the most productive and appears to be a perfect fit for Spoelstra’s equal-opportunity offense. Everybody knows he’s a 3-and-D player, but no one envisioned him shooting .451 beyond the arc his first 10 games suiting up for Miami.
At 36, Iggy has also shown flashes on defense and gives valuable playoff experience to the Heat. Give him a few more weeks to be in game shape, as he sat down the first half of the season after refusing to play for the Grizzlies.
So what’s the ceiling for the Heat this season? The playoffs are a lock, but I would be terribly upset if they don’t make it to at least the second round of the postseason.
And the potential second round matchup for the Heat is no other than Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, the same team they have already beaten twice, accounting for more than a fifth of Milwaukee’s nine losses this season.
The Heat may not win the NBA championship this year and would be lucky to reach the Eastern Conference finals. But one thing’s for certain, Miami is relevant again this season and I’m already happy with that.