Behind hot shooting from Wayne Ellington and Josh Richardson, along with surprisingly good defense minus Whiteside, the Miami Heat have surged above .500 for the first time since Nov 26th.
At 15-14, and just two games behind the Detroit Pistons for the 4th spot in the East, the time is now for the Heat to finally turn the corner on their season. They enter a particularly soft stretch of games over the next seven matchups, with only one coming against a team with a winning record. That team, the Boston Celtics, is one the Heat have played tough twice and beaten once so far this year.
Looking at the other teams, only the New Orleans Pelicans are in playoff contention. Two, the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks, look completely helpless and sit at the bottom of their respective conferences. The remaining two, Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic (twice), are both well below .500.
We have seen this Heat team go on runs before, only to backslide. If they can handle business and go, say 5-2, the Heat's record would look a lot better at 20-16.
This is complicated by the injury to James Johnson - predicted to be out 7-10 games - who's been one of the Heat's most productive players so far. That timetable would sit him out for 4 to 5 games of the next 7.
Still without news on the return of Hassan Whiteside, the Heat will need Bam Adebayo, along with Kelly Olynyk, to shoulder an even bigger load of minutes at the 4 and 5. The rookie center has been playing at a high level and seems to be improving as he gets used to the speed of the NBA.
We will see which direction the Heat trend Monday in Atlanta.