The Heat, off a 4-2 road trip, has reason to feel better about itself than at any time this season, having closed to within three games of .500, at 13-16, and a game behind No. 7 Charlotte and No. 8 Orlando in a battle for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
But some ESPN analysts offered some sobering analysis in recent days.
On a podcast last weekend with information king Adrian Wojnarowksi, respected longtime ESPN NBA writer Zach Lowe said: “I’m not sure any team in the league has a bleaker outlook than Miami.”
The Heat, without any superstars on its roster, is already well above next year’s salary cap and won’t be able to clear substantial cap space until the summer of 2020.
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ESPN’s Wojnarowski added: “Erik Spoelstra has coached them out of some teams that should have won a lot fewer games. It’s kind of been some fool’s gold because Spoelstra will always get the most out of a group. They paid all these players who went on that late winning streak two years ago and now they’re stuck.”
Meanwhile, after Justise Winslow began the recent road trip with three consecutive games of 20-plus points for the first time in his career, ESPN analyst and former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy made clear on Dan Le Batard’s show that it’s premature to make any conclusions.
“We’re now going to judge this guy on three games instead of what we’ve seen the rest of this season, let alone the seasons before?” Van Gundy said last week. “Let let’s this at least go to 20 games before all of a sudden we’re changing our lineups because of
Justise Winslow’s ‘greatness.’
“It’s going to take more than three games for me or anyone else in the league to buy it. … What we’ve seen in [those three games] — the shooting, even the creative ability to initiate offense and even make plays for other people, we haven’t seen that in his previous three and a quarter years.
“He was very bad as a starter when he had to play against frontline guys. When he’s had to be out there throughout his career, his plus/minus has been as bad as his shooting stats. ... Hopefully he can keep [this] up, just to becoming an average offensive player in the NBA; he’s never been close to that to this point. [And as a trade chip], I’m not sure $13 million a year, anyone is buying into that after three years. Will at least be a good rotation player, so he does have some value.”
Van Gundy did make a point to praise Winslow’s defensive acumen.
Winslow scored 20, 21 and 28 in the first three games of the trip, but just nine, four and two (on 2 for 10 shooting) in the final three games of the trip and played just 14 minutes Sunday in New Orleans before leaving with an ankle injury.
▪ As was the case last season, the Heat - from a plus/minus perspective - is again playing better with Kelly Olynyk on the court than any other player. Olynyk once again leads the Heat in that category, with Miami having outscored by 56 points when he’s on the court.
▪ The Heat is plus 37 with Bam Adebayo on the court and -47 with Hassan Whiteside on the court.
▪ It’s not all negative on the Heat from ESPN. Analytics expert Andre Snellings says of the Heat: “The Heat are becoming the proverbial team no one wants to face, with aggressive defending wings who funnel opponents to a traditional big-man-centric defensive back line of rim protectors. Their games are ugly, and they are still below .500 on the season, but they’ve won four of six games of their Western Conference road swing to gain a bit of momentum ahead of another tough week featuring games against the Rockets and Bucks.” But Miami is just 24th in ESPN’s power ratings.
▪ Former Georgia rookie forward Yante Maten - one of the Heat’s two way players (along with Duncan Robinson) - continues to impress in the G-League. He is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.0 per game while averaing 10.8 rebounds.