MIAMI — As the games have grown more important, the Heat have grown closer together.
The Heat have celebrated their past two victories — Saturday’s win at Washington and Monday’s home win against Cleveland — with a team huddle on the court moments after the buzzer. James Johnson called those huddles “the most significant moments.”
“That huddle at the end of those games is our season all wrapped up into one big huddle,” Johnson said. “We know that any time it could have been the last chance we had together of really fighting for that playoff fight. We knew that in Washington. We knew that [Monday against Cleveland]. After a hard-fought game, you have nothing left and you just want to wrap your arms around the guys.”
After Monday’s dramatic overtime win over the Cavaliers that kept the Heat’s playoff dream alive, team captain Udonis Haslem found himself at the center of the team huddle. As Heat players — including injured Justise Winslow — stood around Haslem, the 14-year NBA veteran delivered a message to his teammates.
“We’re just enjoying each other’s company, enjoying an opportunity to play together,” Haslem said of the Heat’s postgame huddles. “We’ve just got unbelievable faith in each other. I’ve got an amazing amount of respect and love for these guys. Even including the Big 3 teams, this is probably one of the more fun teams I’ve been around. These guys really come with a lot of energy. They enjoy being in the gym. They like having fun. They play hard. They work hard. I’m their captain and I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to have an opportunity to lead.”
The Heat have had to overcome the absence of Chris Bosh, who has been away from the team since failing a physical in September due to ongoing blood clot issues. 14 Heat players (including Bosh) have combined to miss 335 games due to injuries this season.
On top of that, Miami bounced back from an 11-30 start to climb its way back into the playoff race with nine former D-League players on its roster. With a win in Wednesday’s regular-season finale against the Wizards, the Heat will become the first team in league history to go from 19 under to finish the season at .500.
“That’s born out of all the experiences that we’ve had together,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of his team’s postgame huddles on the court. “A lot of the reason this team has been able to bond is we’ve been able to embrace each other, be open to each other. To go through a lot of adversity and not fall prey to the narratives, next year or free agency or whatever story line, or the record when it was poor. But just embrace the season and each other and continue to try to get better. When you go through stuff that’s painful and you come out of it, it does form a bond. It was rough the first half of the season but our guys didn’t give up on each other.”
And the Heat’s 36-year-old team captain couldn’t be prouder.
“These guys keep me young man,” Haslem said. “Every day win or loss, they come in ready to work. There’s no Debbie Downers in the bunch. Nobody is coming in sitting in the corner pouting, focused on themselves, being cynical about it. I’ve got this saying I started, ‘Why not us?’ Why can’t we be the team to make the playoffs? Why can’t we be the team to win it all? Why can we be the team to have the best record in the second half of the season? So if we work hard enough, we deserve those things. I want those guys to really believe that we can achieve those goals.”