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New year, same goal for Heat: Make playoffs

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Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo finished 2017 strong.

NBA: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat entered 2017 with a 10-24 record, falling to 11-30 in January before starting a 13-game win streak that turned around the season Jan. 17, 2017. Now in 2018, the Heat find themselves in a much better position — a 19-17 record, sole possession of the seventh seed, and just 1.5 games behind Detroit and Washington to climb as high as the fourth or fifth seed.

It’s nice, but perhaps not where the players envisioned after such a strong end to last season. And it certainly hasn’t helped that Miami has suffered from a plethora of injuries. After the Heat led the league in games missed due to injuries or illness last season, eight players have combined to miss 108 games. Currently, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow — all of whom are key players for the Heat — are out.

Miami’s goal in 2018 remains what it was when the Heat fell to 11-30 in early January: win. As Erik Spoelstra discussed in this recent feature with Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Mannix, “There are a lot of ways to get to the top.” As I’ve written about before, many Heat fans wonder why Pat Riley signed away big money in role players like Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters and James Johnson instead of tanking in search of a franchise player. But the Heat see value in building a winning culture, and hoping that brings some disgruntled stars to South Beach via trade.

That means that Spoelstra will look for Josh Richardson to build on his impressive month of December in the new year. Richardson averaged 17.4 points on 55 percent overall shooting and 47 percent shooting from downtown last month. He transformed from the inconsistent player who could disappear from games to a reliable scoring threat and defensive stopper. Richardson’s holding opposing players to 39.1 percent shooting this season. He may not be LeBron James, but Miami finding their small forward of the future in Richardson, a 2015 second-round pick (and not Winslow, the 2015 lottery pick) would be a step forward.

It also means that Spoelstra should find a way to keep Bam Adebayo in the rotation after James Johnson returns from injury. Adebayo shined in Hassan Whiteside’s 13-game absence, showing his versatility defending perimeter players, passing to keep Miami’s offense humming and finishing around the rim. He’s a player Miami can build around, and the Heat should continue to find minutes for him.

Miami has played better recently — going 8-4 since Dec. 9 — but still had arguably their worst loss of the season Dec. 29 against the Brooklyn Nets. The Heat will need to avoid those losses against sub-par teams, especially at home. The Heat enter 2018 with a losing record at home and a winning one on the road. Continued development and better consistency will make 2018 an even better year for Miami than 2017.