As the Heat wait for word on whether Chris Bosh has any shot of returning this year, there’s no reason to sound the alarm on their season yet. This is not last year all over again.
While Bosh is arguably the most important player on this team, Miami is in far better shape to deal with his absence than last season. Here’s why:
1. Massive head start
This team obviously hopes to keep fighting as a contender to win the Eastern Conference, a goal that was borderline realistic with Bosh and looks like an enormous long shot without him. The good news for Miami, though, is that it gained substantial headway toward a top-four playoff seed before Bosh exited. The Heat went into the All-Star break five games over .500, compared to being eight games under at this point last year. Based on the current standings, the projected minimum for a top-four seed is 46-36 and the minimum to make the playoffs at all is 43-39. If that holds, Miami can go 12-15 the rest of the way and still get in.
The issues that caused the Heat to miss the playoffs last season went far beyond Bosh. Dwyane Wade was out 20 games, Josh McRoberts was out most of the year, and Hassan Whiteside missed seven of the last 21 while having only one fully functional hand in the games he did play. D-League call-up Henry Walker started 13 games in the second half, and Udonis Haslem started 23. Michael Beasley averaged 21 minutes per night. Norris Cole, James Ennis, Shabazz Napier, Haslem and Shawne Williams each logged more than 900 minutes for the 2014-15 Heat. This season, the guys jumping into expanded roles are McRoberts, Justise Winslow, a surprisingly sturdy Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green. It’s far from perfect, but that’s a difference.
That 12-15 mark the Heat likely need to match or exceed to make the postseason is very doable. Once the Golden State Warriors leave town after Wednesday’s game, Miami is through the worst part of its schedule. After that, 15 of the final 25 are against sub-.500 opponents. The Heat get the 76ers (8-47) twice, the Magic (24-30) three times and one more shot against each of the New York teams (combined 39-74). The home/away split is fairly even after a wildly unbalanced first four months, and the only glaringly tough road games left are at Toronto and San Antonio.
4. Bosh might come back
There’s always that. The ambiguity of Bosh’s status has lingered well beyond last year’s period of uncertainty. The fact that neither he nor the team has given any indication of how long he expects to be out leaves reason for the Heat to be encouraged about potentially getting him back before the end of the season. That possibility was nixed within days of last year’s blood clot issue being detected.