The Heat have hit the All-Star break with 25 wins. The optimists will say they have won 14 of their last 16 games. The pessimist will say they still are seven games under .500.
The break comes at a good time for a team that has gone through so many ups and downs this season, going from the second worst record in the league one month ago to within two games of the playoffs at the break. And although some like to call this the halfway point, Miami is two/thirds through the season.
So with the week-long break upon us we reflect on the season so far and bring you our awards for the two/thirds point of the season.
Most Valuable Player
Tom: Goran Dragic — This one was easy. From the start of the season Dragic has been the team’s best and most consistent player. He is the pulse of this team, he plays hard and never makes excuses. Dragic is a coach’s consummate leader.
Anthony: Goran Dragic — Through all of the losses Dragic was the most reliable player on the Heat’s roster. And now through all of the wins, that hasn’t changed. Dragic’s efficient and effective play has been impressive to watch, as he’s shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
Most Improved Player
Tom: James Johnson — Nobody saw this coming. Johnson was an unheralded signing that most thought would give the Heat a little bit of depth defensively but not much help on offense. But he’s been a major force off the bench and recently had a string of three consecutive game with at least 20 points to boost his averaged to 12.2 points and nearly five rebounds.
Anthony: Dion Waiters — Welcome to Waiters Island. It’s pretty crowded these days. Waiters is playing the best basketball of his NBA career. Over Miami’s past 16 games, he’s averaging 21 points on 49.8 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists. When the Heat signed Waiters as a free agent this past summer, not many knew what to expect. But this is pretty much the best-case scenario.
Tom: Luke Babbitt — The Heat thought they were getting a 4 who would stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting and become a major piece to the offense when they made the trade with New Orleans last summer. Well, Babbitt does stretch the floor but not nearly enough. He is averaging just 4.5 points and playing just 15.7 minutes, despite having started 35 games. He is shooting .387 from long distance but averaging just more than one 3 per game. For a player who is one dimensional, that is not enough.
Anthony: Derrick Williams — When the Heat signed forward Williams to a one-year, $4.6 million contract, it was with the expectation that the former No. 2 overall pick would be part of the team’s rotation this season. But that expectation was way off. In the 51 games Williams spent with the Heat, he played in 25 of them and averaged 15 minutes of playing time. He did not play at all in 25 games with the Heat this season per coach’s decision. Miami ended up releasing Williams earlier this month and the Cavaliers picked him up on a 10-day contract.
Tom: Dion Waiters turnaround after injury — Waiters was a favorite fan target, after all, he was replacing the most popular player in Heat history. And through the first 15 games he was averaging 14.2 points and shooting just 38 percent. But then came the groin injury that forced him to miss 20 games. Since, he has been a different player. After needing five games to knock off the rust, Waiters has averaged 21 points and 5.1 assists in his last 13 games while shooting just under 50 percent. Now, he could be the shooting guard the Heat pursue for the long term.
Anthony: James Johnson can play point guard — I didn’t expect this, and I don’t think many outside — maybe even inside — the organization expected Johnson to bring a LeBron James, Draymond Green “one through five” type versatility to the basketball court. At 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, Johnson has done everything from run the offense to defend centers for the Heat this season. As an impending free agent, Johnson is in line to receive a big pay raise this upcoming summer.
Tom: The 1-5 road trip in early January — Miami emerged from its longest road trip of the season with its one victory coming at Sacramento. And the Heat lost to some bad teams, Phoenix and the Lakers. But coach Erik Spoelstra insisted the team had “a great” road trip and was “making strides” even as the losses mounted. Few took Spoelstra seriously at the time but it cannot be a coincidence that when Miami returned from that trip it immediately won 13 straight games.
Anthony: The win over Golden State — This was not expected. The Heat shocked the NBA world by defeating the NBA’s best team (record-wise) 105-102 on Jan. 23. What was the difference that put Miami over the top? Dion Waiters’ dramatic game-winning 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds remaining to break a 102-102 tie. The victory energized the Heat as they went on to build a season-changing 13-game winning streak.