Time for Heat to flip switch
Team overcame a similarly sluggish start 2 seasons ago
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
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.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra hopes to find a way to pull the Heat out of their doldrums.