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Injuries and inconsistency teaching Miami a much-needed lesson in a crucial time

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Despite being undermanned and losing notable games, the Heat can learn something big and move forward successfully.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We knew this road trip was going to be tough. We just didn’t know it would rip the Heat into pieces. After winning four of their first five games of the New Year, Miami has slowly degraded as continued inconsistency and numerous injury issues have surfaced.

Dragic (calf), Wade (shoulder), Deng (eye), Whiteside (oblique), Udrih (neck), McRoberts (knee) and Anderson (knee) have all missed multiple games over the course of the trip besides Wade, who played during Friday’s 101-81 loss to Toronto after being listed out. The effects have spoken for itself. Losing 7 of their last 8, the Heat (23-21) have slipped to eighth in the Eastern conference and sit just three losses away from 12th place.

It is not easy to get over the hump, especially when we've had this reoccurring issue of three (wins) in a row and then falling short, - Chris Bosh

Three steps forward, two steps back, three steps forward, four steps back.

To define the first half of the season for Miami, no word could do more justice than inconsistency. While mustering up wins against Cleveland and Oklahoma City, the Heat would fall to lowly teams like Minnesota and Brooklyn. Falling behind early in games and rallying late to win would dictate certain outcomes while blowing big leads and collapsing in the second half became a theme as well. Two straight wins followed by three straight loses. A career night preceded by a career-worst night. Inconsistency prevented the Heat from reaching any plateau. Still, Miami managed to enter the halfway point with a 23-18 record although the majority of their games came against teams south of .500.

With the schedule only turning up a notch from here - four games against Chicago starting Monday, two against San Antonio and a few more contested games against the leagues premiere teams - there is no room for inconsistency in the Heat's race to the playoffs. Leading up to the All-Star break, the team plays six of the next seven on the road before returning home to face the Clippers and Spurs. The likelihood the Heat fall below .500 and out of the playoff picture is possible in the next couple of weeks, especially as the injuries and inconsistency continue.

But for all the inconsistency over the first half of the season, one major element has remained fairly consistent: the starting lineup. The talented lineup of Dragic, Wade, Deng, Bosh and Whiteside have started over 25 games but haven't exactly meshed this season. With impressive individual resumes, the togetherness has rarely resonated on the floor. In fact its not often that coach Spoelstra closes the game with the lineup that starts the game.

The Heat rank 26th in the league with passing the ball (19.8 assists) and 28th, ahead of only the Nets and Sixers in scoring a game (95.5 points). Part of this is due to the lack of continuity from the Heat's core group of players. Although the effort have been there the execution hasn't.

Dealing with early season struggles, Dragic has failed to look like the point guard Miami signed a five-year, 85 million dollar contract to. The point guards' impact has been limited as he shares the ball with two all-stars in Wade and Bosh, who at times try to do too much. Whiteside, the team's star defender, has complained that the Heat don't run plays for him. It's led to ill-advised jump shots and little flow in the offense. The personal feelings have affected the direction of the Heat.

Dragic trying to prove to fans his contract worth and Whiteside trying to play for a huge contract have gotten in the way of the overall mission at hand. Even as a 34-year old Wade showcases he still has it in him and a player, Chris Bosh, who led a franchise (Toronto) in scoring tries to headline an offense, the personal agendas have glared more than the team ascension. Yes, this team wants to win a championship. But the path they're taking has led them in circles.

That's why this current road trip is the best thing that could have happened to this Heat team. From the injuries and absences to the blowouts and burnouts. The injuries have held players out of games, making them watch from the bench as a spectator.

When Wade sat out against Denver, the Heat found themselves down 18 points in the third quarter. Wade, whose often been on Whiteside's tail, watched the 26-year old lead Heat back in historic fashion with key offensive buckets and big blocks as the center finished with a monster 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting, 17 rebounds and 11 blocks in a 98-95 comeback win over the Nuggets. It was the first game Wade watched Whiteside play live this whole season.

Dragic, whose missed the last six games, played all but one game of the season prior to getting injured. On the bench, Dragic has been able to see a lot of basketball from a different perspective.

Most of the time, I can see, like, [Bosh] doesn’t get so many open shots anymore," Dragic said. "I don’t know why, but we don’t make that pass back, and especially in the last quarter, when Jonas Valanciunas was on CB, when we drive a couple of times, Valanciunas, he’s going to stop the ball and CB was wide open. When you make that play, the game is much easier, because everybody then is inside the paint. And of course the person handling the ball needs to be aggressive to achieve that."

Suddenly the point guard had a great deal to say. The Heat's facilitator was able to evaluate his team from a different angle and see what more he can do to be a solution.

"The main thing for us, when I come back, I think we’re not organized well, and sometimes we are going too slow into the offense. It’s like we run an action with 15, 14 seconds on the clock, and then of course we put ourselves into a tough situation."

It wasn't just Dragic who saw where he could help. It was the Heat's other guys. Wade and Bosh tried their best Friday night to get a hold of the Raptors. Two 20 point games from the team captains were useless as the Heat got blown out by 20 without Dragic and Whiteside.

"I told Goran, I might miss him more than his wife miss him right now - Dwyane Wade

In the six games that Dragic hasn't played, the Heat has averaged just 84.5 points, 11 points down from their already bad scoring average of 95.5 points. In the seven games before the injury, Dragic had bumped his scoring total to 15.5 points on 53% shooting, including 52.4 percent from downtown. The transition to having him not on the floor has been a lot harder than most Heat fans would have expected.

Since Dragic has gone down, the Heat have stumbled in the aftermath along with the absences of Whiteside, Udrih and more. Yet, the stumble has provided solutions. It's taken players' away from their personal agendas and given them a new perspective. Stepping away from the conventional inconsistent pattern Miami was stuck in for the first 41 games of the season, the Heat have experienced both sides of the court. They're not going to go anywhere unless they do this together. The process has allowed the Heat to depend on each other, not distrust each other. Going forward, this mentality must be ingrained in the mission.

It will get worse before it gets better but it will get better... - Wade

Tell us where you think the Heat can improve during the second half of the season, in the comments below.

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