Of course, that was before the emergence of Hassan Whiteside, the unexpected savior of the season, and the subsequent 3-1 finish to the road trip.
After a tough loss to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night, it was hard to predict exactly what version of the Heat would be present at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Dwyane Wade would sit out the game as he nurses a lingering hamstring injury and Chris Andersen would be out of action as well, due to an undisclosed illness. But the Heat did catch a break with the Kings' Rudy Game missing the game.
Miami's starting lineup included Shabazz Napier (making his second-straight start), Mario Chalmers, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Whiteside. However, "Hassanity" would soon be taken out of the game after picking up two quick fouls in the first two minutes. With Andersen out of action, Udonis Haslem would play significant time (and have a solid game, chipping in 7 points and 6 points in 24 minutes).
Bosh would have to match up with Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, the borderline All-Star that's been fighting injury and the overall ineptitude of the Kings' front office this season. And it was a matchup that Bosh would dominate, finishing with 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting (including all three 3-point attempts) to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steal.
Miami would take a 52-44 lead at the half but, as Heat fans have realized, that has absolutely nothing to do with the final score of the game. That was hardly the case on Friday, as Miami started the third quarter with a 5-0 run and eventually built up a 17-point lead in the same period. With Whiteside still limited by foul trouble (and finishing with only four points and just one rebound), perhaps Miami's best player was Luol Deng.
Deng has been inconsistent at times this season but was absolutely spectacular against the Kings, ending with an efficient 25 points (on 11-of-18 shooting), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He was moving freely without the ball, cutting well and hitting from the perimeter. A true difference maker.
The Heat also got a nice contribution from Shawne Williams (7 points) off the bench.
The win was certainly a feel-good moment for Miami, who are off until they face the Oklahoma City Thunder (19-20) on Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. But there are still points that need to be addressed:
- Will the Heat front office make a trade? Andersen's curious illness could be a cautious move to protect a player that might be on his way out of Miami via trade.
- What has happened to Napier's development? The rookie point guard missed several layups and wasn't much of a factor. Yanking him in and out of the Sioux Falls Skyforce may have wreaked havoc with the young' player's confidence.
- And Napier will have to produce with Norris Cole clearly incapable of doing so. Cole might also be on his way out as he continues to struggle as a starter or as a reserve.
- The Heat bench has become a weakness and must be strengthened some how. Danny Granger has regressed and James Ennis has yet to become a regular member of head coach Erik Spoelstra's rotation.