The Miami Heat open the season in Orlando two months from today. The Heat then enter a very important period with their longest home stand of 2017-18 followed by their longest road trip.
How will the early season schedule play out? We take a look at that and more in our latest mailbag. If you weren’t able to ask a question, send them in for future mailbags via Twitter to @Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44.
From @JustBallin3550: Do you think that our schedule will help us start quickly or will be struggling out the gate?
A year ago, the Heat dug such a deep hole going 11-30 that even a stunning turnaround to 30-11 was not enough to reach the playoffs. Miami must get out to a much faster start this year for many reasons, including justifying bringing back the majority of its roster from a team that finished .500.
That means coach Erik Spoelstra and the Heat must navigate that six-game road trip that starts Nov. 3 and has them facing three playoff teams from last season plus Denver and Phoenix, two teams that should be much improved.
During October and November, the Heat face 14 teams that made the playoffs in 2016-17, including 10 in November, the most of any month of the season. Among those games: Two each against Boston (both home) and Washington (home and away), plus games at home against San Antonio and Minnesota; and games at Denver, the Clippers, Golden State, Phoenix, Minnesota and Cleveland.
Even looking into early December, Miami plays the Warriors at home and at the Spurs.
The schedule is challenging early and should give us a good gauge on just how good this team can be.
From @sik0simmons: Who is the player that must improve the most in order for the Heat to be +.500
The easy and most obvious answer is Justise Winslow, who played in just 18 games last season and in that small sample size really struggled with his outside shooting. The Heat need Winslow to progress, grab and hold onto that starting small forward spot.
But I am going to throw out another name: Hassan Whiteside. For the Heat to be a true contender it first needs an anchor, one player who is an automatic All-Star every year and on this team Whiteside is that player. He took steps in the right direction last season by averaging 17.0 points and a league-leading 14.1 rebounds, but now he needs to take another big step forward and become a dominating force on both ends every night.