Throughout this season, the Miami Heat has tried to turn its trials into triumph. There were victories that were filled with emotion which resulted with a hope for a winning streak. Games like Christmas against the Cleveland Cavaliers. A dominant Hassan Whiteside against the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls. Goran Dragic against the Suns. The comeback against the Kings. A handful of times Miami has tried to light a match only to burn out days later. So last night the familiar flame occurred again..and a wildfire followed.
The Heat stand in an odd place in the NBA standings. They are literally a few losses away from gaining a top 10 draft pick and a few wins away from entering the playoffs. We can argue about the pros and cons of each decision. With victories, Miami loses its chance to get younger and instantly better with a future cornerstone via the draft. With every loss, Miami's story line will be the team that didn't have enough resilience to push itself through to the playoffs. As unfair as that sounds, it's the truth. No one cares about Miami making noise in the playoff house if they are standing outside the door.
So the answer for every Heat player and coach is simple: Win to get in because losing isn't acceptable. This year isn't about who their opponent in the playoffs is or the likely quick exit once there. This season would instead mean that a long tiring journey full of bumps and bruises ended with a red and black flag waving, not a white one barely hanging on.
66 games completed and 16 left to play. Half at home and the other half on the road. Four games against the Western Conference (vs Portland, vs Denver, at Oklahoma City, vs San Antonio) and twelve games against the East. Miami will be playing important games versus the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, and Indiana Pacers as well -- all teams they are battling with for playoff positioning.
Miami will have to play with 100% perfection to have a 50% chance at winning. That means more of this 2006 version of Dwyane Wade, averaging nearly 30 points the past five games. More double-doubles from Whiteside who has been hands down the best Eastern Conference Center in 2015. More of this Goran Dragic that perfectly balances assists with aggression. More of the energy from Chris Andersen. More defense from Luol Deng, And for the first time ever....more Mario Chalmers!
When most teams are quick to fold when facing pressure, Miami wants to show the NBA (even if it's only for a few extra playoff games) that it can persevere when written off. If that perseverance leads to a first round match up against LeBron James, the Cavs will walk away. but will walk away limping.
Like a few other times this season, Miami found a spark last night and it ignited a flame that burned through Cleveland. The question now is can this spark be enough of be a lasting fire that can bring Heat to the playoffs.