Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnick: At halfway point, it’s obvious Miami Heat is good but not great

Miami Heat president Pat Riley has assembled a team that is decent but likely not championship-caliber. And he’s limited in how much he can tinker with the roster.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley has assembled a team that is decent but likely not championship-caliber. And he’s limited in how much he can tinker with the roster. AP

After the first half of the Heat’s 2015-16 season thudded to a close against the Thunder, the midway milestone seemed an appropriate time to prod for perspective. Who better to ask than an introspective individual who, even after an erratic evening, still stands as Miami’s most consistent performer this season?

What, Chris Bosh, can be taken from the Heat’s season so far?

“I mean, it’s kind of a weird question right now,” Bosh said. “Because, just the state that we’re in now doesn’t look good. But you know, I’m not going to get caught in the matrix. Just keep believing. Keep the positive thoughts going. Just try my best to be a leader for this team.”

Those outside the Heat circle aren’t entrusted with responsibilities that compel us to suppress opinions. So, now that the Heat’s season has officially reached middle age, at 23-18, we can ponder what many middle-aged men, making mid-tier salaries for mid-sized companies so they can support mid-sized families in mid-sized homes, ask about themselves while crouching down in their cramped cubicles.

Is this all there is?

Unfortunately for the Heat, the answer is also yes.

This — slightly above average — might not be Miami’s ceiling, but it’s within a fingertip’s touch. This is a good team, not a great one, and even staying “good” might prove greatly challenging, with injuries mounting and the schedule stiffening. Just as it’s time for the aforementioned cubicle-cramped men to abandon childhood ambitions of becoming astronauts or emperors, it’s time for optimistic observers to abandon preseason expectations for these Heat to become champions.

At the moment, Miami’s victory pace is 46 and winning percentage .561, the equivalent of finishing 9-7 in the NFL. It would rank 13th among the franchise’s 28 seasons, but even that might not hold, since it’s artificially skewed to the upside. Miami has played 23 of 41 at home and, when your overall record and home/road split are the same, you’re basically playing .500 ball.

A deeper dive is more distressing. The Heat has outscored opponents by just 36 points, or 0.9 per game, 12th of the NBA’s 30 teams entering Monday’s play.

Flukes are infrequent in the NBA playoffs, making the regular season a more accurate forecast on a meteorologist’s green screen. The past 15 NBA champions had won 67, 62, 66, 46, 57, 65, 66, 58, 52, 59, 54, 60, 58, 56 and 67 regular-season games. The 46 was an anomaly. That was the 2011-12 Heat’s total in just 66 games, with 16 sacrificed to a work stoppage.

No team with a winning percentage as low as the Heat’s .561 has ever won an NBA championship. (The Houston Rockets won the championship in 1995 after going 47-35, but that’s a weird one, since they were coming off a title, and were working to incorporate all-time great Clyde Drexler. )

Some under-.500 or barely-above-.500 teams have made the NBA Finals, but most of those — 1955-56 Fort Wayne Pistons, 1956-57 St. Louis Hawks ,1958-59 Minneapolis Lakers and 1970-71 Baltimore Bullets — were from such a bygone era that their entire operations have relocated since.

So, some realism is required. Some perspective, too. Other pro sports organizations would be satisfied with this sort of season, especially locally. The Dolphins have played at better than a .561 clip just twice since 2003 (once, just barely), the Marlins only once ever (.562 in 2003) and the Panthers never have, unless you eliminate ties or overtime losses from the equation.

The Heat, of course, has taken a different posture in Pat Riley’s two decades, more championship or bust, so he will certainly be itchy to improve a roster that has, at times, seemed ill-fitting and inadequate. Yet, this time, the master tinkerer is limited by previous tweaking and current conditions. He’s armed with few appealing veteran assets, prohibited from trading a first-round pick earlier than the 2024 draft, cognizant of ownership’s luxury tax concerns and determined to maintain some flexibility for 2016 free agency.

So he’s likely stuck.

Are fans? Not entirely. There’s stuff to do. Enjoy Dwyane Wade’s effective twilight and Bosh’s smooth stylings. Hope that Hassan Whiteside shows enough, for better or worse, for Riley to properly evaluate his worth. Pull for Goran Dragic to resume progress made prior to his calf injury, and for Justise Winslow to find some sort of shooting form. Root for a favorable first-round matchup, so this season does not end as early as 2008-09 or 2009-10 did, after 43 and 47 wins. Start scouting the summer, which should be more fun.

And try not to get caught in a matrix, of expecting too much.

Ethan J. Skolnick: 305-376-3483, @ethanjskolnick

Tuesday: Bucks at Heat

When, where: 7:30 p.m.., American Airlines Arena.

TV, radio: Fox Sports Sun; WAXY (790), WAQI (710, Spanish).

Series: Heat leads 60-38.

Scouting report: This is the first matchup of the season. The Heat, which struggled with Milwaukee’s length last season, is expected to be without point guards Goran Dragic (calf) and Beno Udrih (neck), as well as forwards Josh McRoberts (knee) and Chris Andersen (knee). After this game, Miami goes on the road for five games.

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