Time for Heat to flip switch

Team over­came a sim­i­larly slug­gish start 2 sea­sons ago

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Gameday - Ira Win­der­man iwin­der­man @sunsen­tinel.com. Fol­low him at twit­ter.com/ ira­heat­beat or face­book.com/ ira.win­der­man

MI­AMI — Can you re­cap­ture light­ning in a bot­tle? Is a once-in-a-team’s life­time story one that can be rewrit­ten? Is Pre­pos­ter­ous 2.0 pos­si­ble?

The ap­proach dur­ing tough times such as th­ese for the Mi­ami Heat is to never look back. What’s done is done. Those ugly losses can’t be stricken.

And yet, if any team has a guide­post for turn­around, it is Erik Spoel­stra’s.

No, this does not re­quire the clock to be turned back as far as the era that in­spired Vice Nights. Rather, just to two sea­sons ago, when there also was a sink­ing feel­ing as Novem­ber turned to De­cem­ber.

If any­one sug­gested at this stage in 2016 that some­thing tan­gi­ble, com­pelling and en­er­giz­ing could have been re­al­ized from that season, they would have been (and were) mocked. Yet that was ex­actly the mes­sage from Spoel­stra, as 11-30 turned into 30-11 over the sec­ond half of the season.

Through­out those dark­est days, Spoel­stra in­sisted some­thing could be un­locked, that a team patched to­gether af­ter a failed (mis­guided?) run at Kevin Du­rant could yet co­a­lesce given time.

It did. Go­ran Dragic and Dion Wait­ers bonded into a 7-Eleven back­court, one Wait­ers proudly pro­claimed “was al­ways open.”

James John­son found his place as fa­cil­i­ta­tor, par­tic­u­larly along­side Tyler John­son.

Has­san White­side was given enough min­utes to sate, with Wil­lie Reed more

than com­fort­able with the left­over scraps.

Com­ple­men­tary play­ers Rod­ney McGruder and Luke Bab­bitt ac­cepted their lim­ited places, even as starters.

Chem­istry was forged or, to use Spoel­stra’s quote­wor­thy par­lance, steeled.

Now the ques­tion is whether it can be repli­cated, pos­si­bly from less of an over­all deficit, with the pre­vi­ous 30-11 and 11-30 lead­ing only to a failed play­off run by virtue of tiebreaker.

For starters — ac­tu­ally for starters — the Heat have yet to have Dragic and Wait­ers to­gether on the court. That also was the case at the start of 2016-17, when Wait­ers missed 20 games from late Novem­ber to early Jan­uary with a groin in­jury di­ag­nosed as a pectineus tear.

Could that magic be re­claimed?

The 2017 re­vival also en­sued af­ter Jus­tise Winslow was lost for the balance of the season at the turn of the cal­en­dar due to shoul­der surgery.

While no one is pulling Winslow from the lineup or the ro­ta­tion this time around, the Winslow ab­sence in 2017 al­lowed Spoel­stra to re­cal­i­brate and thin out his ro­ta­tion, a step that could be ne­ces­si­tated again.

The 2016-17 Heat never were go­ing to chal­lenge LeBron James and the Cleve­land Cava­liers at the top of the East, just as the Heat’s ul­ti­mate up­side this season falls short of the level of the Toronto Rap­tors or, once they hit their stride, the Bos­ton Celtics.

But that season the Heat played it out to the fin­ish, the fi­nal night of the season de­cid­ing their fate. That come­back be­gin on Jan. 17, an un­ex­pected vic­tory over the Houston Rockets that trig­gered an un­ex­pected 13-game win­ning streak.

This time around, the pa­tience could wear thin sooner.

The NBA trad­ing dead­line is Feb. 7. If there isn’t a sense of sus­tained re­vival by then, then sell­ing off and set­tling into a more fa­vor­able draft position could

prove pru­dent.

Which means, in the in­terim, the fol­low­ing have to be re­solved:

■ Is there a fu­ture for the

7-Eleven Dragic-Wait­ers back­court?

■ Does the James John­son seen at the end of 2016-17 still ex­ist?

■ Can Has­san White­side be es­tab­lished to be point where he is as con­tent as at the end of ’16-17?

■ Will “coach’s de­ci­sion” have to come in play with Winslow in­stead of what in­jury han­dled in Jan. 2017?

■ Would the lot­tery pro­vide even the 2017 value of a Bam Ade­bayo if there is a fight to the fin­ish?

Based on the turn­around in 2016-17, it still is early in the game for the Heat. Based on what has tran­spired since, it al­ready feels as if a mo­ment of truth is at hand.

AJ MAST/AP

Mi­ami coach Erik Spoel­stra hopes to find a way to pull the Heat out of their dol­drums.

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