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The Miami Heat are no longer just the underdogs

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What to watch for as the Heat begin their homestretch towards the playoffs.

69th NBA All-Star Game
Miami Heat All-Stars
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA All-Star Break is finally over, and what a weekend it was for the Miami Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are All-Stars. Although Duncan Robinson did not win the 3-Point Contest, he still remains in the top handful of three-point shooters in the league. Bam Adebayo is the reigning Skills Challenge champion. Whether you agree with it or not, Derrick Jones Jr. is the Slam Dunk Contest champion. In what was arguably the greatest All-Star Weekend in NBA history, the Miami Heat were able to leave their fingerprints on every single event. But now the real fun begins.

With the NBA back in action, teams finally will begin to show the direction that they are taking as the offseason, or playoffs for some, approaches. The upper echelon of teams in the league will look to tighten up as they pursue a championship, the teams at the bottom will start pushing their “youth movement” in their pursuit of lottery balls, and all the teams trapped in the middle will figure out which end of the spectrum they’re headed towards.

So where does that leave Miami? The Heat currently sit at 4th place in the Eastern Conference with a 35-19 record; they are just 3 games behind the Boston Celtics for 3rd place and 4.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for 2nd. This bodes well for the Miami Heat, who have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league.

The Heat have typically performed better over the second half of the season. The most notable example of this is when Miami infamously went on a miraculous 30-11 run after an abysmal 11-30 start to the 2016-2017 season but fell just a hair short of a playoff spot (ironically to the Chicago Bulls who had both Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade on their roster at the time). The All-Star Break could not have come at a more necessary time for Miami, with the Heat currently in the midst of their worst slump of the season. Over the last 10 games, the Heat are 4-6 with four losses coming in their last five-game Western Conference road trip. The Heat heading home can only mean good things with Miami being one the elite home teams in the league (22-3 at home thus far this year).

The Heat were one of the most active teams in the NBA’s trade deadline this season; they shipped out Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, and James Johnson in exchange for Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill. Iguodala and Crowder have already made immediate tangible impact in the rotation; the Heat will continue to integrate them into the offensive and, more importantly, the defensive schemes.

Miami’s perimeter defense has been a bit of a hinderance (to put it generously) during this recent slump. In their last four losses, the Heat have allowed a total of 76 made three-pointers. A simple calculation shows that this means Miami has essentially allowed opposing teams to hit about 20 threes per game over these last four losses. This NEEDS to tighten up if the Heat are to attain any kind of success this season.

As imperative as Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro have been for Miami’s three-point shooting and overall offense, they have been net negatives on the defensive end. On the other side of the ball, Kendrick Nunn is currently having his worst offensive slump of the season as he is still working back from his Achilles injury.

As stated previously, the All-Star break in itself may have been the remedy for many of these issues. With fresh legs under the team now, this may be the jolt that the Heat required to right the ship and get right back towards being one of the Eastern Conference’s elite. While the All-Star break might be enough to get back on track, it will take more than that for the Heat to really establish themselves as contenders. Miami is well aware of this, and there may not be a more hungry team in the league motivated to prove the world wrong.

The Heat have undeniably surprised everyone and surpassed all preconceived expectations this season, but they are no longer a secret. The rest of the league are now aware of what Miami is all about and what they bring to the table, and the Heat will certainly use the second half of the season to show that they are more than just a surprising team that proved doubters wrong. There is no doubt that watching Miami’s ascension and All-Star takeover has been objectively amusing to any NBA fan, but the time for fun and games is now over with the second half underway.

The Miami Heat want more than just to be that “fun team”. The Heat are out to prove that they're for real, and they're here to stay.