No one was quite sure what the South Beach ballers would look like in this their first year in the post-Wade Era. Most expected at least somewhat of a drop-off without Dwyane around anymore, but it seemed rash to count them out of the playoff race before it even began. Nevertheless, we’re now just 13 games into the 2016-17 season, and it already feels like a foregone conclusion that the Heat will be playing the lottery come May.
It’s rare that a team is able to immediately overcome the loss of a future first ballot Hall-of-Famer by making a postseason run. This Heat team had some promise though (and it still does). Yet, this was a year in which everything needed to go well in order for Miami to finish among the top eight teams in the East.
My grandfather always used to tell my dad: “Don’t worry about a thing, because nothing is gonna be alright.”
Hopefully Pat Riley and the Miami Heat can embrace this idea, because it’s probably going to be rough sledding for a while.
Josh Richardson missed the first four games of the season while working his way back from a torn MCL that he suffered during the offseason. Goran Dragic recently sat out three games to nurse an ankle ailment. Justice Winslow missed his fourth straight game Monday due to a sprained wrist. Injuries, injuries, injuries, just be gone. Instead of being able to build chemistry over the first sixth of the new season, the Heat have had to make do with what they’ve had, plugging in guys like Rodney McGruder, Luke Babbit, and Josh McRoberts more often than they planned.
While Winslow’s absence (as well as some favorable officiating) allowed rookie superstar Joel Embiid to dominate Hassan Whiteside and the Heat in his 23 minutes of action on Monday, it was Miami’s offense (or lack thereof) that lost them the game.
Winslow is shooting 33.1 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from beyond the arc, so it’s no given that he would have shaken himself out of that funk or helped much on offense. However, his length and strength as a help defender would have been the biggest deterrent for Embiid, especially since Whiteside racks up the majority of his blocks as a help defender and wanted no part in covering “The Process” along the perimeter.
Whiteside finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks with a Plus-Minus +8 in his 33 minutes. In other words, it definitely wasn’t his fault that the Heat lost. He was one of two players on the team with a positive Plus-Minus, the other being Derrick Williams, who finished +4 in 19 minutes as the starting stretch forward.
At the end of the day, it’s a make-or-miss league, and if Josh Richardson doesn’t brick all 10 of his shots prior to the one useless make in the final few seconds, this contest is very much up in the air. Philly’s own Dion Waiters had a solid game, scoring 19 points and dishing five assists while committing zero turnovers. He has stepped up amid the incessant injuries, and it will be interesting to see how many minutes coach Erik Spoelstra affords him once Winslow is healthy. With Dragic, Richardson, Tyler Johnson, and Waiters, the Heat actually have a good bit of depth at guard, and it should be “one of those good problems” for Spoelstra once Winslow is back in the fold.
The one thing that was supposedly set to improve without Wade around was the spacing, but so far that hasn’t happened. Miami is tied with Orlando for 20th in the league in threes per game, sinking just 8.2 per contest, and they are also 20th in three-point percentage at 33.8 percent per NBA.com/stats. When the spread pick-and-roll with Goran and Hassan is the team’s bread and butter, the spacing goes awry on nights when Richardson, Dragic, and Johnson shoot poorly, and they combined to go six-for-31 from the field against the 76ers. Teams will happily go under screens on Dragic all day and dare him to beat them from the outside. Meanwhile, Whiteside isn’t a great post player either, so it’s not like the 76ers with Embiid where you can just throw him the ball down low and let him show off Hakeem Olajuwon-esque footwork and agility. Hassan’s lone field-goal attempt from the free-throw line area, which he sank, seemed to surprise everyone – and he is (quite obviously) more comfortable operating inside the paint on both ends.
On the other side, it was a true team victory for the Sixers. Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell shared point guard duties, with the latter finishing the game for defensive purposes. Veterans Ersan Ilyasova and Gerald Henderson combined for 29 points on 15 shots. Sophomore Jahlil Okafor complemented Embiid well as the backup center, adding 15 points in 25 minutes. Robert Covington shook off another poor shooting night, doing all the dirty work and scoring five of his nine points late in the final quarter, two on a backdoor cut for a layup and three more on his lone made triple. In what has become a common theme through the early stretch of this season, Covington was mercilessly booed for nearly the entire night by the home crowd at Wells Fargo Center. Smacking himself on the leg after one of his many clanked open shots, he continued to hustle, box out, snatch rebounds, force turnovers, and make the type of impact you would think a blue collar city like Philadelphia would appreciate. Then again, Andre Iguodala got minimal love for his efforts in Philly, so perhaps this shouldn’t be all that surprising. Covington finished with nine points (4-13 FG, 1-5 3Pt), nine rebounds, three steals, and one assist in 31 minutes, finishing with a Plus-Minus +8 for the game. The guy is 362-1025 from beyond the arc in his NBA career, good for 35.3 percent. In my opinion, Brett Brown needs to keep sticking with Covington and allow him to shoot himself out of this slump, as Rob is currently one of the team’s most versatile and valuable two-way players.
Miami won’t shoot 38.6 percent from the field or 22.6 percent from the beyond the arc on most nights, or at least they sure hope not. Like the 76ers, the Heat are flush with young, talented pieces. When in doubt about how to end an article, sometimes posing a question does the trick. After winning three of their last four (and four straight home games), do the 4-10 Philadelphia 76ers have a better, equal, or worse chance of making the playoffs than the 4-9 Miami Heat?