Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra started the month by being named East Coach of the Month for February. He might get a few votes for the award in March but the Milwaukee Bucks' Jason Kidd looks like the obvious choice. After losing their 2nd best player, Jabari Parker, they have shot up in the standings and are tied with the Hawks for the 5th seed. Coach Spo is still in the running for Coach of the Year, though, and now has the support of many other NBA coaches and the national media thanks to the Heat’s big turnaround since January.
The Hawks, Bulls and Pistons did not have a good month allowing Miami to jump into the current 7th spot and stay in contention for the 5th seed. The Pacers, who are tied with the Heat for the 7th spot, have also slipped in the standings this month. If the season ended today, the Pacers would be the 8th seed since Miami holds the tiebreaker. The Pacers and Heat both have 7 games left. The Bulls have 8 games left.
The Pistons and Hornets are still mathematically in the race for a playoff spot but barring a huge meltdown by the Pacers, the Bulls are the only team that has a realistic chance of sneaking in. Miami's magic number to clinch at least the 8 seed is now 6. Every game is still very important.
The Heat started March well, going 5-1 with wins against the Cavs twice and Raptors. They were 7-2 before Dion Waiters sprained his ankle against the Timberwolves. Miami has missed the clutch play of Dion lately. He has missed the last 6 games and is expected to miss at least a few more. Miami is 3-3 without Dion and 7-2 with him in March. Overall, Miami is 27-19 with Dion and 10-19 without him.
It has been a good month for Hassan Whiteside and he played in every game despite a lacerated hand and minor ankle injury. His free throw percentage is way up. In March, he's shooting .810. Before March started, he was shooting .578 from the FT line. He made the game winner against Detroit. It was the Heat’s first regular season buzzer-beating game-winning field goal since Dwyane Wade hit one against the Bulls in 2009. He was named the East Player of the Week for the week of 3/13 to 3/19. He also set a few Heat team records against the Suns, the single-season mark for rebounds, consecutive double-doubles and double-digit rebound games.
Goran Dragic missed the Pacers game, which ended up being a loss. His numbers are a little lower but he is still the most important player on the team. After Dion went down with the ankle injury, he went into a mini 4-game slump in which he shot .338 from the field. His scoring was down but he has since bounced back in the back-to-back wins against Detroit and New York.
Josh Richardson played every game in March with 6 starts. He had his best game of the season vs the Knicks in Madison Square Garden with 17 points, 5 steals, a block, an assist and a rebound on 7-of-12 shooting. We hope to see a lot more of that while Dion is out.
Luke Babbitt continued his consistent shooting and also played every game. He has also had to guard some good forwards such as Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Serge Ibaka and Marvin Williams. Babbitt is a very underrated defender and not just a 3-point shooting stretch-4.
Tyler and James Johnson both missed the game in Cleveland but played in the other 14 in March. They combined for a big game in the loss to the Celtics with 44 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks (but 0-6 3-pointers). JJ had one of the best dunks of the season against the Pistons when he posterized Marcus Morris, delivered a black belt knee to his chest and drew the foul for an and-1. Tyler was one of the Heat players who stepped up his game after Waiters went down and Dragic slumped a bit. In the 5 games between 3/17 and 3/26, Johnson averaged 17.8 ppg on .530 shooting and shot .824 from the FT line.
Wayne Ellington played in every game this March. He started out strong but since the Timberwolves game he has gone cold. After a 7 of 10 from three game against the Pelicans, he's shooting only .294 from deep. I don't expect this to last long as the man with the golden arm will simply keep shooting and eventually start making threes more consistently again.
As for the rest of the team, Rodney McGruder played in every game and is still solid. Willie Reed missed the 76ers game with the ankle bursitis injury. Okaro White posted 4 DNPs in March. Since Richardson came back, Spo is using him less. He played big minutes in the two Cleveland games and played 20 minutes in the last game vs the Knicks because of McGruder's foul trouble. Besides that, he hasn't played more than 10 minutes off the bench if at all. The Heat are 2-2 when he doesn’t play at all.
The team's overall 3-point shooting has cooled since the beginning of March. They are taking less 3's and making less. In a 3-game stretch vs the Cavs and Hornets, the Heat made 18 of 34, 16 of 35 and 17 of 41 respectively. That is a lot of attempts and makes even in this era. In the 7 games since making 16 of 35 vs New Orleans, though, they have only made 10 or more twice including a 12-25 effort in the last game against the Knicks. Dion Waiters was absent from all or most of those games. But, the Heat still set the team record for most three point makes in a season against the Pistons with make number 719. They became the most prolific three-point shooting Heat team ever with 8 games left to add to the record. After Wednesday’s game in New York, the number is now 731.