How Heat stacks up at mid­sea­son

Mi­ami stands one game above .500, not quite what some ex­pected.

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Front Page - By Ira Win­der­man South Flor­ida Sun Sen­tinel

MI­AMI — Has good enough be­come good enough for the Mi­ami Heat?

Be­cause for all of the fran­chise’s cham­pi­onship lin­eage, an over­whelm­ing por­tion of the cur­rent ros­ter has been raised in a cy­cle of medi­ocrity, where .500 es­sen­tially has stood as a touch­stone.

In 2014-15, when Go­ran Dragic, Hassan White­side and Tyler John­son ar­rived, there was a 37-45 fin­ish.

In 2015-16, the sea­son Jus­tise Winslow and Josh Richard­son were added to the mix, there was a 48-34 record.

In 2016-17, the first sea­son with the fran­chise for Dion Wait­ers, James John­son, Wayne Elling­ton and Rod­ney McGruder, it was 41-41 and no play­offs.

And last sea­son, when Bam Ade­bayo, Der­rick Jones and Kelly Olynyk came aboard, the ul­ti­mate tally was 44-38 and a sin­gle play­off vic­tory.

Now, mid­sea­son 2018-19 has the Heat at

21-20.

That makes it an over­all 191-178 record since the start of the post-LeBron James re­build.

And a sin­gle play­off-se­ries win, one that came be­fore seven mem­bers of the cur­rent mix ar­rived.

“That’s the one thing that I’ve been try­ing to get these guys to un­der­stand,” guard Dwyane Wade said at this mid­point, “is, ‘We could be good. You guys can be bet­ter than we’ve been the last few years.’ It’s a men­tal­ity and a swag­ger know­ing that you can.”

Yet to this point, the high-wa­ter mark this sea­son has been one game above .500, a place where they again stand after Satur­day’s 112-108 vic­tory over the Mem­phis Griz­zlies at Amer­i­canAir­lines Arena, a game that hung in the bal­ance un­til the fi­nal sec­onds, as did a win­ning record at mid­sea­son.

At the start of the sea­son, Josh Richard­son stepped for­ward as a lead­ing man.

Lately, it has been Jus­tise Winslow in that role.

Along the way, Go­ran Dragic and Hassan White­side have had their mo­ments.

And then there is Wade, who some­what sur­pris­ingly stands third in scor­ing on the ros­ter as he ap­proaches Thurs­day’s 37th birth­day.

Un­like ev­ery­one else on the ros­ter be­sides Udo­nis Haslem, Wade has ex­pe­ri­enced the high­est level of NBA suc­cess, the fran­chise’s 2006, ‘12 and ‘13 NBA cham­pi­onships. He knows what win­ning looks like. And he ap­pre­ci­ates that this ros­ter could have a look closer to that than this am­bling .500 path­way.

“I think some­times you have to have a lit­tle swag­ger and a lit­tle con­fi­dence to know how good you are,” he said. “And I think the thing is, I don’t think this team un­der­stands how good we can be. Even though we’re not mar­quee play­ers on our ros­ter like other teams, get a lot of All-Star votes, and have those kind of guys, we have a great sys­tem, we have a great team, we have great in­di­vid­ual play­ers that play well in the sys­tem and it could be a lot bet­ter than where we are.

“But I think it’s a be­lief sys­tem more so than the tal­ent and the feel­ing of be­ing me­diocre.”

Be­lieve as they may, the re­sults for most on this ros­ter have been pedes­trian, 21-20 at the half­way mark the lat­est re­al­ity check.

“The last cou­ple of years ob­vi­ously we haven’t got­ten to where we want to go,” Haslem said. “But the goal re­mains the same. We set cham­pi­onship goals. We still prac­tice at a cham­pi­onship level. We still have a cham­pi­onship mind­set. We’ve got to con­tinue to push. We’ve got to con­tinue to try to get over that hump.”

The mes­sage from coach Erik Spoel­stra in the days lead­ing to this 41-game mid­point had been one of ex­pect­ing more. This is not the team of two years ago, where it took a full sea­son just to get to that 41-41, when process was stressed over re­sults. This is a ros­ter built with an ex­pected growth curve.

“Each sea­son is dif­fer­ent,” Spoel­stra said, “and we know what we’re striv­ing for ev­ery sin­gle year as an or­ga­ni­za­tion. And in the 24 years we’ve been to­gether, we’ve been to the Fi­nals five times. That means there’s a bunch of other times we haven’t and they could be la­beled a bunch of dif­fer­ent things.”

The la­bel these past four sea­sons has been av­er­age. It is why, along the way, there have been the bids for Kevin Du­rant, Gor­don Hay­ward, Jimmy But­ler and other lead­ing men.

But now, a month from the NBA trad­ing dead­line, the ques­tion re­mains who from within will take the take the lead ... and whether there will be a strong enough fol­low­ing.

“I’m just push­ing and grind­ing to get this team to a dif­fer­ent level,” Spoel­stra said.

The re­al­ity is that even at 21-20 the Heat may have topped out their stand­ings po­ten­tial, sixth place the likely ul­ti­mate high ground, con­sid­er­ing the qual­ity of the East­ern Con­fer­ence up­per tier with the Mil­wau­kee Bucks, Toronto Rap­tors, Philadel­phia 76ers, Bos­ton Celtics and In­di­ana Pac­ers.

Yet even if the Heat set­tle in at No. 6, the same seed they closed a year ago, Spoel­stra said the vi­sion will be of a record su­pe­rior to that of this mo­ment.

“I’ve seen times where it looks like we can get to a dif­fer­ent level that this en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion wants to,” he said. “And other times, we are what our record says we are.”

JOHN MCCALL/SUN SEN­TINEL

The Heat stand one game above .500 at mid­sea­son, not quite walk­ing the walk some ex­pect of the fran­chise.

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