What Erik Spoelstra is doing with the Miami Heat is extraordinary, and he’ll undoubtedly be earning Coach of the Year votes if this keeps up.
If I told you that an NBA coach was able to bring his team from an 11-30 record to 32-34, I don’t think you’d believe me. In Spoelstra’s ninth season as Heat head coach, he’s doing just that, and it’s impossible to overlook how much of an anomaly this turnaround is. This season is the first year that the Heat are without a superstar during Spo’s tenure, and many were skeptical of his ability to lead after the departures of Dwyane Wade or LeBron James.
I know that I said Mike D’Antoni is the runaway Coach of the Year, and I still believe he’ll take home the award. But, if Spoelstra and the Heat continue to rise and crack the top eight teams in the East, there’s going to be a legitimate debate.
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Over their last 25 games, Miami’s 21-4 — twenty-one and four. This torrid stretch includes winning streaks of 13, four (and counting) and three, and improbable wins over the Cavaliers (twice), Rockets (twice), Warriors, Raptors and Pistons.
The catalyst behind everything is Dion Waiters who literally looks like the second coming of Kobe Bryant. He’s suited up for 22 of the Heat’s games, and he’s averaging 19.1 points on 46.8 percent shooting and a mind-boggling 45.6 clip from three. Kevin Durant said that Waiters is the irrational confidence guy who thinks he’s the best player on the court no matter who’s playing, and now it looks like that’s the case.
He’s had a game-winner against Golden State, a dagger from 30-feet against Cleveland and led an 18-point comeback against the Nets.
The backcourt wouldn’t be complete without Goran Dragic, who’s playing incredibly efficient basketball. He’s outscoring Waiters a bit at 21.7 points a night, and his percentages are through the roof — 52.3 from the field and 45.4 from three. Dragic’s slashing style and ability to get to the cup is ideal for Spoelstra and the Heat because three-point shooting is a huge part of their offense. Moreover, Dragic is a lethal enough scorer to take advantage of single coverage if no one helps off the shooters.
It would be so, so, so much easier for Spoelstra to do this if he had the James, Wade and Bosh Big Three, and he’s done a tremendous job of having his guys buy into the thought that they can actually make the playoffs and that tanking isn’t an option. As of Sunday, they’re just half a game back of the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth seed.
As incredible as the offense has been (108.9 points a game over the last 15), defense has been the separator, and it’s been that way from day one. All through this season, the Heat have been one of the NBA’s elite defenses, but an inept offense played a huge role in them losing games.
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Wayne Ellington, Okaro White, Willie Reed and James Johnson don’t always have huge nights offensively, but they’ve been the Heat’s most consistent defenders who aren’t named Hassan Whiteside. The four above have great efficiency numbers, but Whiteside is still the anchor and is averaging two blocks a night during their 25-game stretch. He’s tied Anthony Davis for fourth in the league.
The Heat has 16 games left on their schedule with nine of them coming at home. Miami is significantly better playing at AmericanAirlines Arena and is 18-14 thus far. Notable matchups come against the Cavs, Blazers, Wizards and Raptors, but they also play on the road against the latter two with stops in Boston and Detroit along the way.
It’s not a colossally tough stretch, but, with a handful of contests against playoff teams, it’ll play a huge role in deciding the seeding. If Miami can win nine of their seven, they’ll get to 41-41 on the season. This same team was 19 games under .500 at one point this year. That should scream Coach of the Year recognition for Erik Spoelstra.
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