NBA

Goran Dragic and Luol Deng.

Resurgent Miami Heat emerge as serious contenders in the Eastern Conference

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After the departure of Lebron James in the summer of 2014, the Miami Heat immediately entered a rebuilding phase. The microscope that follows LeBron James quickly shifted from Miami to Cleveland and this gave the organisation the opportunity to recover from the loss of the world’s best player with a decreased level of scrutiny.

It is practically impossible to replace a player of that magnitude, a player who fills the stat sheet night in and night out in every aspect. The Cleveland Cavaliers never made the playoffs in any of the subsequent seasons after Lebron’s departure, despite acquiring the number one draft pick in two of those seasons.

The Miami Heat didn’t make the postseason last year after Lebron moved back ‘home’ either. That is all set to change this season, however, as the Heat have enjoyed a resurgence and have proved, unlike the Cavaliers, that there can be life after Lebron.

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With Pat Riley running the franchise’s front office, the Florida franchise has one of the best minds in the NBA for offseason moves and prudent acquisitions. Riley has proved that again this term. 

After the masterstroke of bringing the ‘big three’ of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together on South Beach in 2010 to devastating effect, Riley was under pressure to once again work his magic in the off-season.

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That began by re-signing Chris Bosh to a five-year $118 million contract, fending off strong competition for his signature from rival teams. The Heat followed up that move by re-signing Slovenian point guard Goran Dragic to a five-year $86 million deal, after initially acquiring him in a trade the previous season from the Phoenix Suns.

The addition of promising rookie Justise Winslow in the 2015 NBA Draft added to what is becoming a perfect storm.

After a largely indifferent season, the Heat have recently turned a corner and thrived in the face of adversity when they could’ve easily folded.

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks

One of the reasons for the Heat missing out on the playoffs in 2015 was due to Chris Bosh missing the entire second half of the season with a blood clot forming on his lung.

Days before the 2016 All-Star game, Bosh was forced to pull out with what was initially described as a ‘strained calf muscle', but it has since been revealed that his blood clot issues have returned.

Unlike last season, however, Miami have been determined to overcome the loss of such a prominent star and continue their pursuit of an NBA championship.

Prior to the first game after Bosh’s injury, the team were given a rallying speech by head coach Erik Spoelstra. Speaking to the players on 19 February after the All-Star break, Spoelstra said, via Miami Herald: “Expectations haven’t changed.

Milwaukee Bucks v Miami Heat

“Pick your heads up. Don’t put your head down. For what? No. Our expectations haven’t changed. Let’s get to solutions how we’re going to get this done.”

In that first game after the All-Star break, an underhanded Miami Heat, without Bosh and Dwyane Wade, went on to beat the Atlanta Hawks on the road and displayed real resilience and took their coach’s advice on board.

In the eleven games since Bosh’s injury, they have gone 8-3, with stats showing they have improved since the big man went down. They have already matched last season’s poor win total with 18 games still to go.

With Bosh off the floor, Miami has played at a quicker pace which has suited players such as Dragic, Winslow, Gerald Green and Luol Deng. Wade - ever the stalwart - has even indicated he will adapt to the team's new-found groove.

NBA Global Games Rio 2014 - Practice Day

Dragic prefers to attack with pace and has flourished under a smaller lineup, with a particular connection with Deng, Hassan Whiteside and/or Amar’e Stoudemire in these lineups.

Whiteside has also improved after being inserted as a starter in place of Bosh with his game more suited to Dragic’s preferred up-tempo style. One of the games during the post-Bosh stretch saw Whiteside post a solid 25-point, 23-rebound game against the Washington Wizards.

Despite the team’s improved run, not having Bosh for the post-season would be less than ideal. Bosh is the team’s most productive player averaging 19.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and he is crucial on the defensive end.

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks

In late February, the Heat made another smart move by acquiring seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson following his buyout by the Brooklyn Nets. Since Johnson’s arrival, the Heat have a 5-1 record and he is shooting 60% from the field in those games. If Bosh is ruled out for the season, his versatility will be a key factor for the team in the playoffs.

With the leadership and experience of Wade on the roster, the franchise is still in good hands despite the veteran again enduring a season of injuries. Even though his numbers have decreased slightly from his impressive career averages, Wade is still very productive contributing 19.3 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds a game.

With the Heat currently in the 4th spot in the Eastern Conference, a playoff date with Lebron James is a distinct possibility. James left Miami to bring a championship to his hometown; there would be no better stage for Miami to establish themselves in the post-Lebron era than by beating the man himself.

Topics:
Eastern Conference
NBA
Dwyane Wade
Miami Heat
Southeast Division
Hassan Whiteside
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Chris Bosh
Goran Dragic

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