When other people are starting to pay you compliments then you’re doing something right.
“The most dangerous team in the East.”
– Kenny Smith
Those were the six words that TNT NBA Analyst Kenny “The Jet” Smith said about the Miami Heat. Smith who was a two-time championship point guard on the 1994 & 1995 Houston Rockets squad knows a lot about the game and his analysis are normally dead right.
For the rest of the Eastern Conference that only spells a world of trouble.
Built For the Playoffs
This Miami Heat team, like many of the teams that Pat Riley has created in the past, is built for a championship run. Riley would love to win the regular season outright and have home court advantage but during his tenure in Miami, we’ve seen that’s not his most important priority.
Slip up losses like the ones Miami recently suffered to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday aren’t expected but their not thought about too much.
Riley cares about the Heat having a strong enough team come playoff time in order to usurp power from any opponent. Right now you won’t find many people outside of the city of Miami that believe in this team because of their standings within the conference. The Heat are ranked in the middle of the pack at No. 5 behind a few lesser-talented teams such as Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta, but in a little time, they could fly back up to the No. 2 spot with great wins before the All-Star break.
The reason why this team could start to win more often in the second-half of the season is because of the way Riley constructed this roster. The biggest strength of this team is the fact they defend at one of the elite levels in the league. You’re as good as your numbers say you are and Miami has the third best defensive team in the league holding opponents to 95.9 points per game.
When you speak about the defense of the Heat, you can’t speak too much about it unless you mention the team’s biggest name defensively. Hassan Whiteside.
The impact of the 26-year-old center, and arguably the Defensive Player of the Year in the league has such a profound game that it immediately affects every person when they step onto the court to play. During Friday night’s 98-96 win against the Charlotte Hornets, there was a sequence where Whiteside blocked the shot of Marvin Williams but intelligently enough caught the basketball mid air instead of swatting it into the stands.
In an era where space and pace are crucial, Miami does a good job of forcing their opponents off of the three-point line. When teams play against the Heat they normally won’t get many open looks from the three-point line and will have to find other ways to score. When the court starts to collapse, teams start to drive more and challenge Whiteside, which isn’t a wise idea for any player.
Against the Hornets, Whiteside got yet another triple-double with blocks, and this time, he did it off of the bench as he finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots in 27 minutes.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) February 6, 2016
Superstar Shining Mode
For as good as this defense is, Miami will still have to find a way to manufacture points if they want to succeed this season. Whiteside is a developing offensive player, so using him as a No. 1 option would be pointless at this stage in his career. Thankfully, because of the play of Dwyane Wade, you don’t have to.
What truly makes this Heat team scary is that Wade finally looks like he’s healthy. We’ve been shouting this since the beginning of media days but now people are starting to finally take notice. Wade had one of his better games of the year in Charlotte where he had 22 points on 55% shooting, three rebounds, five assists, two steals and one jaw-dropping, turn back the clock dunk over two Hornets defenders.
If Miami can have a fresh and healthy Wade during the second-half of the year and more importantly for the playoffs it could be the final touch on a team ready to compete.
Smith wasn’t wrong about his assessment about Miami. They’ve got the defense to stop any team in a seven-game series. Additionally, having a defensive monster like Whiteside aided by a superstar guard in Dwyane Wade doesn’t hurt either. We haven’t even mentioned how the role players of the team as well have stepped up. Amar’e Stoudemire, Gerald Green, Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, don’t hurt your chances to upset a team in the playoffs as well.
Fans of Heat basketball, it’s time to to get ready because like we’ve been saying, this team is for real.
D’Joumbarey A. Moreau covers sports in Miami-Dade & Broward County. You can follow him on Twitter @DJoumbarey.