Amar’e Stoudemire was back on the big stage Sunday, back in a sports city he truly did steal for a magical spell in 2010, before the Knicks’ decisions — and his body — began to betray him. This made a sizable media crowd gather round, as he sat on the floor, legs extended and adorned in a padded, pulsating, reviving NormaTec wrap.
Stoudemire has the circulation flowing, and the conversation too. And while much of what he told reporters, about the state of the Knicks, about the firing of coach Derek Fisher, about Carmelo Anthony’s burden, and about the lasting lessons of Linsanity was interesting, and even seen as inflammatory by those reading deep between the lines, little was applicable to his current Miami Heat situation.
“We had a game plan to start the year off,” Stoudemire said, to explain how after all physical hardships, he has managed to start the past 16 games for the Heat. “Once we created a nice structure, we can stick with it, execute the game plan and it pays off.”
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The plan has paid off for him, to the surprise of some — including this writer — who wondered early in the season whether he could stay on the court, let alone contribute. But Stoudemire’s statement gets at a larger point, one that speaks well of what the Heat is doing this season. Very little, for most of them, has gone exactly according to the organization’s plan. As a collective group and, in several cases, on an individual basis, there hasn’t really been a structure with which they could stick.
Some of that instability, for the Heat as a whole, was self-inflicted — notably, a starting lineup of jagged edges and a roster scarce on proven shooting. But some, now, has been beyond the Heat’s control, specifically the absence of fulcrum Chris Bosh for the past six games, and likely, though there’s still no official word, much, much longer. Yet the Heat has won four of six since the All-Star break, losing the two games it likely would have lost, at home against the Warriors and in Boston against the Celtics, even had Bosh been playing.
In the process, the team’s narrative has been palpably transformed, from one of frustrating underachievers, seemingly less than the seeming sum of its parts, to scrappy, redeeming, resilient battlers, a narrative that came through in coach Erik Spoelstra’s public statements Sunday.
“Those are opportunities for your team to actually grow,” Spoelstra said. “Every team goes through something like that. Either you make excuses and feel sorry for yourselves and don’t find a way to produce, or you use it as a springboard to really come together as a group and develop some collective grit. That’s what’s happened with our group.”
Then he used one of his favored lines during the Big 3 era, one that he had not uttered in a while.
“This league forces you to adapt or die,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll continue to go whatever direction is required.”
Many Heat players have gone the right direction, which is forward. And in doing so, many have altered their own personal narratives for the better.
Hassan Whiteside was widely considered unreliable, in terms of adhering to team concepts, but what he has done lately has been unselfish and virtually unprecedented; he has posted five straight double-doubles as a reserve, averaging 18.8 points, 16.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks with a net rating of plus-6.3 points per 100 possessions. He has also been setting more solid screens and sinking his free throws.
“I’m comfortable,” Whiteside keeps saying, about shooting, and everything else.
Luol Deng was widely thought expendable, while playing out of position as a floor-spacing small forward. But now, as a lane-cutting, rim-crashing power forward, he has been critical to the Heat’s post-Bosh push, averaging 18.7 points and 11.2 rebounds in his past six games, half of which with a taped-up finger.
“We love Lu,” Spoelstra said.
Goran Dragic was widely deemed disappointing, even by those who recognized the shackles of the Heat’s slowdown pace. But now, more frequently unleashed, he has averaged 18.7 points and 6.8 assists, and is a plus-49 in those six games since the All-Star break.
“I’m me,” Dragic said.
Dwyane Wade, like Stoudemire, was widely believed too breakable but, even after missing the first two games after the All-Star break, is now on pace to play 75 games, while posting nearly identical per-36 minute numbers to last season.
And Spoelstra was widely pegged as stubborn by the fan base, but he has shown the ability to adjust. Pat Riley didn’t give him a tuxedo of talent, or even a three-piece suit, where all the accessories aligned. Rather, he hung a bunch of shirts, slacks and sportcoats in Spoelstra’s closet, and the coach has had to keep making them match.
This season hasn’t been without its wrinkles and stains, for sure. Still, at the moment, Miami looks pretty good.
Tuesday: Bulls at Heat
When, where: 7:30 p.m., American Airlines Arena.
TV, radio: Fox Sports Sun; WAXY (790), WAQI (710, Spanish).
Series: Bulls lead 55-45.
Scouting report: The Heat won the first matchup this season 89-84 on Jan. 25 in Chicago, and the Bulls have had serious health issues since while struggling to adapt to new coach Fred Hoiberg. Chicago won’t have Joakim Noah (shoulder) and Jimmy Butler (knee) and might not have Derrick Rose (hamstring). The Heat played only eight Sunday, but Josh McRoberts might get back in the rotation here.