Twenty-two games into the abbreviated season, the Miami Heat must be relatively happy with its progression through said season up to this point. Yes, even despite a disappointing loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last time out. Current standings: a game back of the Chicago Bulls and in a three-way tie for 2ND place in Eastern Conference, tied for 1ST in Southeast Division, tied for 3RD best record in the entire League, and a Top 10 defense against which opponents connect on only 43% of their field goal attempts. If you think all that is good, it only gets better. Your Miami Heat have accomplished this with the face of the franchise, Dwyane Wade, having been forced to sit out nearly half his squad's contests due to various foot ailments. Want more upside? Only one more back-to-back-to-back set remains on the schedule for this Heat team. Three games in three nights can be tiring, you know.
I will preface my first point by saying I am definitely searching for silver lining, but here goes. Wade having been injured early in the season may turn out to be a good thing for Miami. Using as a premise-a premise that has its flaws-that Wade would have been injured for a significant portion of the season at some point regardless, I would much rather have him healthy for the final two-thirds of the season than for the first third. Perhaps more importantly, James Jones and Terrel Harris have picked up valuable playing time that they likely would not have gotten with a healthy D-Wade suiting up for all those Heat games. Want more silver lining? While peaking too early is much less of a concern in such a shortened season, playing without the core fully intact for a significant stretch helps to negate that possibility. Now that Wade has returned to action-and assuming no more significant injuries occur to the primary members of the rotation-the unit will need time to gel and reestablish chemistry to be sure, but if that turns out to be their biggest concern moving forward, that will truly be a good problem to have.
This Miami team must have learned by now-from constant lecturing from its coach as well as experience in several games this season-that they can score enough points to win (even in a game in which the offensive production isn't exactly clicking) against any team as long as they stick to their defensive principals. And that, Heat fans, more than overall and individual health, offensive production, and/or Coach Erick Spoelstra's substitution patterns will decide how viable the Miami Heat's chances of contending for-and winning-a World Championship are in 2012.