Hassan Whiteside knows what the reaction would have been if NBA fans had been told before the season that the Heat would have a chance to surpass Cleveland in the standings by beating the Cavaliers in a game on the last day of January.
“They would have said we were crazy,” Whiteside said. “They would have said we were nuts.”
Yet that’s the predicament Miami finds itself in, as it enters Wednesday’s game at Quicken Loans Arena at 29-21, just one half game behind 29-20 Cleveland, which is third in the East.
Kelly Olynyk, whose top seeded Celtics lost to Cleveland in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, downplayed the importance of moving into third in late January but said when he signed with Miami, he thought the Heat could join the Eastern Conference elite.
Never miss a local story.
Goran Dragic agreed that Wednesday’s game also carries significance because of the season series, in case the teams finish tied. Cleveland won the first game between the teams, and they meet only three times total this season — including a March 27 game in Miami, the Cavaliers’ only visit to South Florida this season.
“It is going to be crucial for us to tie this and see what can happen in the last one,” Dragic said.
Whiteside said “we look at [the standings] all the time. We’re just looking up. We’re not looking at any teams behind us. We’re looking up. We’re looking at Celtics, Raptors, Cleveland. We’re watching close.”
With Cleveland’s Kevin Love reportedly out six to eight weeks with a broken hand, Dragic is eagerly awaiting word on whether he will be selected to fill Love’s spot in the All-Star Game.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver filled injured John Wall’s All-Star roster spot with Detroit center Andre Drummond.
“I was surprised,” Dragic said when asked his reaction to the Drummond selection on Tuesday night. “I was surprised. But it is what it is.”
The NBA announcement on Drummond noted he received the next-most votes from coaches in selection of Eastern Conference reserves.
With the Love opening, will Dragic look at his phone a lot?
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t look,” Dragic said. “Anyone is looking. That said, I cannot draw my focus on that because tonight we have a game. It’s a huge game for us. My only focus is to be with my teammates and try to help them.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra is lobbying for Dragic.
“The reality is somebody is going to have fill that spot in the All-Star Game, so can we make it Goran Dragic already?” Spoelstra said after the team’s shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena. “I mean, let’s get him in there. What do we have to do to get him in there. We think he deserves it. We’re all pulling for him. It’s in the league’s hands now.”
Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade, who played with Dragic in Miami, tweeted: “It’s time to put Goran Dragic in the All-Star Game.”
Dragic said Wade’s tweet “means a lot. D-Wade, he helped me a lot when I came to the Miami Heat. I’m really grateful.”
Dragic and Whiteside remain confused about what criteria are used for selecting players.
“The All-Star Game confuses me,” Whiteside said. “Last year they said my stats was great, but we didn’t win enough. This year, we’re winning, so I guess I don’t know. It’s confusing. Is it about stats or is it about winning?”
Said Dragic: “I don’t know what the league or the coaches — what’s the criteria to make the All Star team. Is that the numbers or is it score for a team? I cannot answer that question because I’m not the guy making the decisions.”
▪ Spoelstra offered no update on the timetable of a return for Rodney McGruder from an October broken tibia, saying he’s traveling with the team as a reward for all of his work in coming back from the injury. McGruder has been shooting and doing some court work and is expected back at some point in the coming weeks.