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NBA PM: HEAT Keep Overcoming Obstacles

The Miami HEAT have been extremely resilient this season, overcoming every obstacle thrown at them.

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HEAT Keep Overcoming Obstacles

A lot has changed for the Miami HEAT in 12 months. Around this time last year, the franchise was one of the NBA’s elite teams, preparing for their fourth consecutive NBA Finals run and eyeing a three-peat.

Now, Miami is just fighting to make the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. Dwyane Wade has been his dominant self when healthy, but the supporting cast around him is much different. LeBron James obviously left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chris Bosh is out for the year with a pulmonary embolism and veterans like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Greg Oden and Roger Mason Jr. are no longer in the NBA.

Many of Miami’s current players weren’t on the squad last year, including Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, Hassan Whiteside, Josh McRoberts, Shabazz Napier, Henry Walker, Tyler Johnson and James Ennis.

A number of these players seemingly came out of nowhere to contribute, as Whiteside joined the team from the D-League and Johnson, Walker and Michael Beasley were added through 10-day contracts before being signed for the remainder of the season. The team has developed an us-against-the-world mentality, viewing themselves as the Miami Misfits.

“We’ve developed a grit,” Udonis Haslem told reporters. “We’ve got so many guys who have come from the D-League, [from being] undrafted and [from] other situations who are having an opportunity to play. This is their time to prove people wrong and to prove that they deserve to be in this league. There’s no better situation for guys like that. For myself, being in-and-out of the rotation and not having an opportunity to play so much in the last couple of years, it’s an opportunity for me to show that I can still go out there and produce. We’ve just got guys in the right situation at the right time.”

Injuries have depleted Miami’s roster, which has made this season even tougher and forced head coach Erik Spoelstra to rely on some of these fringe NBA players.

Take last night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, for example. The team entered the game with Bosh, Whiteside, McRoberts, Napier and Chris Andersen sidelined, and then Deng and Beasley got hurt in the first half. Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson combined for 63 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists and shot 76.5 percent from the field.

Still, Miami found a way to win – in large part thanks to Wade’s 40 points, six rebounds and four assists. Wade was banged up as well after just having his left knee drained on Saturday. Haslem, who has averaged just over 15 minutes per game this season, came up big with 18 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 8-13 from the field.

That win perfectly describes Miami this year. They’re a resilient group with a “next man up” mentality. They have dealt with a number of obstacles this season, as they are currently second in the NBA in games missed (behind only the tanking Minnesota Timberwolves), according to ManGamesLost.com.

“We have so many men down, we just have the ‘last man standing’ approach,” Haslem told reporters. “It just so happens that I am the last man standing when it comes to our [centers]. I’ve got a couple bumps and bruises, but I’m not going to make it worse than it is.

“When I’m out there I have to play with energy, effort, and I have to impact the game. Helping my team win means playing with energy, it means rebounding, impacting the game defensively, knocking down occasional shots, hitting the boards and bringing that physicality and defensive mentality.”

Before the game, Coach Spoelstra understood that defending Drummond and the Pistons’ frontcourt would be a difficult task for Haslem alone.

“That was the paradox I told him before the game,” Spoelstra told reporters. “I said, ‘You have to really lead us with your physicality and fearless and toughness.  We need that. But, oh, by the way, you can’t foul.’

“This is a game that we’re going to have a ‘lunch-pail’ mentality, get in that scrum and fight for it and there’s no better guy to lead that type of charge than UD, our captain.”

Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Haslem during his first two and a half seasons in the NBA, praised the big man and said every team needs a player like him in order to compete at a high level.

“Udonis is the ultimate pro,” Van Gundy told reporters. “The guy is always ready. He had times in the last two years where he wasn’t in the rotation; now he’s starting. That guy is going to be ready and compete all the time.

“You hope that as you go on building an organization, you find the Udonis Haslem’s of the world. Those guys will help you win a lot of games. I always will tip my cap to Udonis even if his numbers aren’t what they are tonight. Obviously you have to have the stars, you have to have the Wade’s and guys like that to build an organization. But then around them you have to put guys like Udonis Haslem if you are going to be a perennial contender. He’s great.”

Miami is currently 34-39, which is good for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Considering everything this team has been through in the last year, that’s an impressive feat.

“I like this team,” Spoelstra told reporters. “I like the toughness of this group.  I like how this team responds to adversity. … What we’ve been talking about is this collective grit and toughness to find ways to win games and it can be different ways each game.

“You have to keep yourself ready, sharp and ready for these types of moments and each one of them have had theirs.”

Wade has been the leader for Miami. Entering this season, many doubted the 33-year-old, especially since he missed so many games last year. However, he has taken on a larger role this season and played extremely well. He has averaged 21.8 points, 5.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 54 games.

He can dominate with his old-man game, and there are times when he turns back the clock with a jaw-dropping performance, such as his 40-point outing against Detroit. Fellow players respect him and know what he’s capable of doing on a nightly basis.

“No, [I wasn’t surprised], it’s Dwyane Wade,” Detroit’s Reggie Jackson told reporters after Miami’s win. “Everybody knows he is a great player, one of the greatest to ever play this game.  At his age, you don’t last that long and still be that dominant without picking your spots.  He was just getting the spots. … He just found a rhythm and really hurt us.”

“Dwyane is a great player,” Van Gundy added. “He’s a Hall-of-Famer. … He’s had a great year when he’s played.”

It’s looking more and more likely that the HEAT and Cavaliers will match up in the first-round of the playoffs, which would be a series packed with storylines and intrigue.

It could also be a much more competitive series than most two-versus-seven match-ups, given that Miami has won two of their three games against Cleveland this season. Wade played out of his mind in both victories (finishing with over 30 points in the HEAT wins, and he didn’t play in the one loss).

After a season of overcoming obstacles and succeeding against all odds, Miami would love to send James and his Cavaliers home in the first round. It wouldn’t be a fifth straight trip to the Finals, but it would certainly end this campaign on a high note.

Lopez, Curry Named Players of the Week

The Brooklyn Nets’ Brook Lopez and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, March 23, through Sunday, March 29.

Lopez led the Nets to a 3-1 week behind a conference-best 28.8 points, 8.5 rebounds (10th in the conference) and 2.25 blocks (tied-third in the conference).  Lopez shot 57.8 percent from the field overall and converted better than 60.0 percent twice.  He recorded two point-rebound double-doubles, including a 34-point, 10-rebound effort during which he also contributed three blocks and two steals in a 91-88 win over the Charlotte Hornets on March 25.

Curry helped the Warriors to a 4-0 week, with all four wins coming against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.  He averaged 30.0 points (third in the conference) and 8.0 assists (second in the conference), and connected on 24-of-38 three-point field goals (63.2 percent).  Curry posted back-to-back point-assist double-doubles on March 24 and 27 during wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies.

Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic, Houston’s James Harden, the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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