When Dwyane Wade caught up with Erik Spoelstra after the Heat’s win in Chicago on Jan. 27, the 12-time All-Star made sure to compliment his former coach on the job he and his staff had been doing to not only turn their season around, but also to get the group to keep playing hard even after a disappointing 11-30 start.
“No matter what their record was they just played so hard,” Wade told The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski on his podcast as the Bulls were preparing to play in Minnesota during the weekend. “And I just really know it comes from him, it comes from his assistant coaches, it comes from that culture that was built. And I just gave him praises for it.”
The Heat’s win streak was at six games the night Miami left Chicago with a 100-88 victory. It grew to a league season-best 13 games before it was finally extinguished with a loss Saturday in Philadelphia.
But before it ended, Wade, 35, called it one of the most impressive winning streaks he has ever seen and “just as impressive as the streak” when the Big 3 won 27 games in a row during the back stretch of the Heat’s franchise-record 66-win season in 2013.
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“We did it with Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Ray Allen,” Wade said of the Heat’s 27-game run. “This streak right here to me is as just impressive with guys names that aren’t as big as we sit here today.”
Wade pointed out how the Heat “have eight D-League former players on their roster.”
It’s actually 10.
Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Okaro White, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Willie Reed, Josh McRoberts, Luke Babbitt and Marcus Georges-Hunt all spent time in the D-League. Five of those players – Tyler Johnson, White, McGruder, Reed and Georges-Hunt — were undrafted and began their careers in the D-League.
Spoelstra, who never liked talking about the Heat’s win streak when the team was in the middle of it, was asked Monday after shootaround if he can appreciate what his team accomplished during this streak as much as the 27-game win streak because of the vast difference in the quality of the rosters. As usual Spoelstra downplayed it all.
“We're not taking a step back to look at it,” Spoelstra said of the streak before opening up more on the topic. “I really enjoyed seeing the grit and the toughness of this group and perseverance just as much when we were 1-9 in those 10 games before that.
“We still have 31 losses so let’s not get carried away,” he continued. “Look, I love Dwyane. But there’s so much exaggeration in this league. There’s exaggeration when we were 1-10. There was exaggeration when we won 10 in a row. It’s very challenging to stay focused on what matters and that's the task at hand. That’s the challenge right now. We have a very important game [against Orlando]. [Our players] don’t need any reminder more than to know that we’re not even in the playoffs right now.
“And, whatever talk about how many D-League guys we have on our roster as well, that also can suggest a lot of disrespect for the players that are in the locker room. That would suggest that they have less than. And they wouldn’t want anyone to speak about them like that.”
Heat captain Udonis Haslem, who was a part of the 27-game win streak (the third-longest in NBA history) as well, said what impressed him most about the streak was that it “came at a time where we could have cashed in our chips, but we didn’t.”
“For us, we have complete confidence in whoever we put out there on the court,” Haslem said. “We know the guys in the D-League work harder than most guys that have been spoon-fed their whole career. So, you give me guys like that and I know we’ve got a chance to go out and win basketball games as opposed to a guy who wants everything given to him, doesn’t want to work for it, shies away from physicality and toughness.
“I'm just happy for the guys we have. I’m happy for [Okaro White]. I'm happy for Tyler, who was there [in the D-League] a couple years ago. I'm happy for Willie, who was in and out of a roster, Hassan, all these guys who had to fight to get here. I’m happy because I understand what that feels like.”
▪ Spoelstra said guard Dion Waiters, who participated in shootaround, will warm up with the intention to play Monday against the Magic. Waiters has missed three consecutive games with a sprained left ankle.
▪ Richardson, who has been out since Jan. 6 with a left foot sprain, has begun participating in more contact work in practice, Spoelstra said, and could return to action soon.
“He’s making good progress,” Spoelstra said. “He went through the whole shootaround again [Monday]. He did some contact drills [Sunday], not 5-on-5, but at least a little bit more contact. I like where he’s progressing.”