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Miami Heat: 13 thoughts through 13 games post-All-Star break

http://www.iconsportswire.com/image/NBA/2081650

THE FACTS (Heat/Opponent)

Record: 9-4

108.5 points per game/101.8

50.3 rebounds per game/40.6

22.8 assists per game/20.8

47.2% FG/43%

36.9% 3PT/35.7%

75.7% FT/75.2%

7.7 steals per game/8.1

7.3 blocks per game/4.6

Offensive Rating: 107.4

Defensive Rating: 100.3

Net rating: +7.1

Pace: 99.70

The Miami Heat have been one of the better teams in the NBA since the All-Star break, despite missing arguably their best player. Miami has downsized starting lineup, improved their pace, and have jumped out to a 9-4 record because of it. Here are my thoughts on Miami’s recent 13-game stretch.

1. I MISS CHRIS BOSH

When healthy, Heat big man Chris Bosh is one of the best players in the NBA. Even when he isn’t, Bosh is one of the best people in the league. Nobody should take that for granted.

I’ve already written to Bosh in the form of an open letter, and, after he released his statement saying he currently has no clot and is “positive” that he’ll return later this year, I’ve written about what his return would mean for the Heat. Regardless of Miami’s recent success, things just don’t feel right without Bosh.

2. SEEDING MATTERS

Regardless of if Bosh returns this season, on paper, the Heat have enough talent to make a run in this year’s playoffs. In order for Miami to make an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, they’re going to need to avoid Cleveland for as long as possible. In other words: Miami better take advantage of their closing schedule and pass Boston for the third seed. Finishing with the fourth or fifth seed would mean facing Cleveland in the second round.

3. LUOL DENG HAS BEEN EVERYWHERE

One of the very, very, very, very few silver linings of Bosh being out has been Heat forward Luol Deng having to log major minutes at power forward — pretty much by default. Since the All-Star break, Deng has averaged 17.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.5 steals while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three.

Deng’s ability as a cutter and shooter have been better utilized at the 4; he’s able to space the floor and draw bigger defenders away from the paint, or beat them with his foot speed from the perimeter with timely cuts. He put the full repertoire on display against the Hawks:

https://youtu.be/-bHZKGmFEsk

Deng’s activity has transferred to the defensive end as well. He’s had to battle bigger players, but he has done a solid job of fronting the post, crowding air space on the catch, and otherwise causing problems with his active hands:

Deng’s played so well as of late, it might just force Miami to bring him back for at least another year — maybe even a multi-year deal. In a vacuum, that’s a pretty good “problem” for the Heat to have.

4. JUSTISE WINSLOW HITTING THE WALL?

Miami’s Swiss army knife Justise Winslow has had a very good rookie campaign. His base averages of 6.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.9 steals aren’t eye-poppers, but the IQ and overall maturity he has showcased this year is absurdly impressive for a 19 year old.

Winslow’s calling card is defense, where he’s been borderline elite. However, since the break, Winslow has seemed a bit off on that end. He’s been beat off the dribble more, and has uncharacteristically blown some assignments.

This isn’t that big of a deal, mostly because this is the most Winslow has ever played in terms of games in a season. As mature and zoned in as Winslow typically is, he’s still human. Mental and physical fatigue in the NBA is pretty normal — especially for rookies. He’ll be fine.

5. GORAN DRAGIC IS LIVING PROOF THE BARBERSHOP THEORY IS TRUE

It’s well documented by now that Heat guard Goran Dragic is at his best when he controls the ball and is able to push the pace. I’d like to offer some analytics that Charles Barkley and Dwain Price would be proud of; Dragic is roughly 127 percent more aggressive in games directly following a haircut, which pretty much confirms the Barbershop Theory.

Fellas, you know how it goes. There’s just something about getting that fresh, sharp line-up that gives you a Mario Chalmers-level of irrational confidence. It just seems like whenever Dragic gets his hair cut, he comes back more aggressive.

Legit, right?

On a more serious note, Dragic has been incredible since the break, averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.1 rebounds. He’s clearly more comfortable with the ball in his hands more, and the faster pace suits his game as well. Shocking stuff.

6. AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE’S DEFENSE IS REAL

It’d be understandable if it was something like then-Bulls forward Carlos Boozer finishing with one of the NBA’s best defensive ratings a few years back despite being pretty bad at everything except post defense; you could at least attribute most of that — okay, all of that — to Boozer playing alongside very good defenders in a top-notch defensive scheme coached by one of the best defensive minds in the NBA.

But it really isn’t. Miami’s resurgent big man Amar’e Stoudemire has legitimately been a good defender since he joined the starting lineup in mid-January, but especially since the All-Star break:

Since the break, opponents have shot 36.9 percent from the field on 7.9 attempts per game when guarded by Stoudemire, via NBA.com player tracking data. It’s an absurdly good mark, but it’s been earned. He’s active and vocal, moves his feet well and does a great job of contesting shots and taking full advantage of the verticality rule.

I’ll avoid making a wine joke for everyone’s sake, but Stoudemire should be commended for his effort on the defensive end this year.

7. JOSH RICHARDSON’S EMERGENCE

After his 22-point coming out party against the Bulls on Friday, I think it’s time we give props to the Heat’s talented second rounder. A 6’6 combo-guard out of Tennessee, Josh Richardson has certainly lived up to his reputation as an active body on both ends of the floor.

That wasn’t necessarily a good thing at all during the first four months of the season, a stretch spilled with spot minutes, turnovers, forced shots in traffic, and some outright silly fouls; one thing that was always consistent was Richardson’s motor. And the thought was, within the next two years, if Richardson was ever able to channel that as well as develop a consistent jumper, Miami would have a solid rotational piece.

The curve has come quite quickly.

Since the All-Star break, Richardson has averaged 9.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.2 steals in 26 minutes per game off the bench.

At this point, you can pretty much guarantee at least one “WOW!!!” play from Richardson — especially against the Bucks:

Poor Greg Monroe:

This finish was wild but impressive:

Richardson has complemented his fearlessness attacking the basket with a budding jumper:

JRich

And about that defense, teams have to be careful of what they do with the ball around this guy:

Before the All-Star break, opponents shot 47.7 percent from the field when guarded by Richardson. Since the break, that number has dropped to 43.6 percent. He’s starting to get it on both ends, and fans have every reason to get excited about that.

8. JOE JOHNSON’S GRAVITY

Miami’s signing of Joe Johnson was arguably the best in-season transaction in the league this year. It’s also difficult to argue a team needing a specific talent from a transaction more than Miami needed Johnson for his shooting ability.

Since joining Miami, Johnson has gone 15-24 (62.5%) from three. What has been more interesting to watch is how often Johnson has been double teamed since joining Miami.

Teams have trapped him when running pick-and-roll, and have doubled him on the block as well:

That extra attention has, and should continue to make things easier on whoever he plays with, specifically Dwyane Wade.

9. DWYANE WADE IS PROVING EVERYBODY RIGHT AND WRONG AT THE SAME TIME

Complicating matters is Wade playing well enough to give his supporters ammo, but falling short just enough to validate some of his detractors.

No, Wade isn’t washed, and his shot creation skills in isolation situations can be useful in crunch time. It’s alsotrue that Wade should be working more off-ball so Dragic can run the show, and fair to admit that the faster pace hasn’t necessarily been ideal for Wade despite the adjustment.

Just to end this on a brighter note, allow me to point out that Wade has only missed five games due to injury so far this year and, on a personal note, is only 43 points away from hitting the 20,000 career points mark. That’s pretty awesome.

10. JOE JOHNSON’S DEFENSE

Let’s get back to Iso Joe for a minute. As much as his shooting and playmaking have helped, he has been less than ideal on the defensive end.

Maybe head coach Erik Spoelstra is saving it for the postseason, but I’m not sure why we haven’t seen Johnson try to defend opposing power forwards yet. He’s bulkier than Deng and Winslow, and would probably do better using his strength to bang in the post rather than trying to chase guys off screens.

11. R.I.P JOSH MCROBERTS

It was a fun week and a half in the rotation, sir. Your nifty passes, behind-the-back dribbles, catapult shooting form, and underrated defense shall be missed:

12. ABOUT GERALD GREEN

Green has been terrible in 2016. There’s really no other way to say it. He can’t shoot, finish, or pass right now, and his defense has been all over the place.

To his defense, Green has been trying his butt off to work himself out of this slump. He hasn’t made any excuses for himself, despite dealing with knee tendonitis that may or may not still be bothering him. Out of fairness, can we at least acknowledge that much? He’s trying out there.

13. WE’RE GOING TO MAKE THE SWINE FLU LINEUP A THING

The lineup of Dragic-Wade-Winslow-Deng-Hassan Whiteside offers an interesting mix of scoring, ball-handling, savvy, and defense. To this point, that lineup has an offensive rating of 104.2, a defensive rating of 91, a net rating of plus-13, and a pace factor of 100. They aren’t quite the Death Lineup that Golden State trots out and obliterates everyone with, but the Swine Flu Lineup as I like to call it is pretty sick.

 

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