When you go 30-11 the second half of the season a lot had to go right. And for the Miami Heat, the last three months had several highlights and season-defining moments.
Here are our top 5:
Lucky 13-game winning streak
The Heat returned from a six-game road trip, in which they lost five games, with the second-worst record in the league, 11-30. Miami appeared to be headed to the draft lottery with a solid chance at a top three pick, and possibly No. 1 overall. Then something clicked. On Jan. 17 the Heat defeated the Rockets, who came into Miami with the third-best record in the league. The win kicked off a season-altering/defining 13-game win streak, one that included wins over the Rockets, Warriors and Hawks at home and road wins over two eventual playoff teams, Chicago and Milwaukee.
Waiters sinks the Warriors
The Heat entered their Jan. 23 game against the Warriors with 30 losses in 44 games. The Warriors had lost 30 games in their previous 2 ½ seasons, a span of 206 games. But the Heat were playing Golden State even for most of the night. The Heat, though, allowed a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to disappear and the Warriors tied the score on a Kevin Durant dunk with 11.7 seconds to play. Dion Waiters then held the ball as the clock wound down and calmly sank a game-winning 3-pointer from the top of the key with six/tenths of a second to play to give Miami a 105-102 victory.
A Cavalier effort
The Cavaliers were out for revenge. The Heat had throttled the undermanned defending champs two nights earlier, taking advantage of a Cleveland team without LeBron James (rest), Kyrie Irving (rest) and Kevin Love (injury) for an easy 120-92 win. But James and Irving were well rested for the rematch in Cleveland and the Cavs figured this would be payback. … Or not. Miami led by 10 at the half, stretched that advantage to 20 early in the fourth quarter and held off a furious comeback attempt by the home team for a 106-98 win, its first in Cleveland in three years.
Whiteside tips the scales
Miami played several games the last three weeks that had an elimination feel, the first being March 28 in Detroit. The Heat and Pistons were both fighting for the No. 8 seed and separated by 1.5 games. Miami led by nine to start the fourth quarter but Detroit forged ahead 96-92 with half a minute to play. But then everything went right for the Heat, who regained possession with a chance to win in the final seconds. James Johnson missed a 10 footer but Dragic and Hassan Whiteside kept the ball alive before Whiteside tipped it in at the buzzer for the 97-96 victory.
The legend of James Johnson
Johnson had already become a fan favorite with his heart and hustle but that adoration multiplied when coach Erik Spoelstra inserted him into the starting lineup late in the season. Johnson ramped it up and his game peaked in the final road game of the season against the playoff bound Wizards. The Heat, again, were playing for their postseason lives and took Washington to the wire. The Wizards took a one-point lead with 20.6 seconds to play. Miami then put the ball in Johnson’s hands and the 6-foot-8 versatile forward created his own shot, attacking the rim with a spin dribble and capping it with a finger roll for the game-winner with 11 seconds to play.