As we ring in 2018, five things to like and dislike about the 2017 portion of the Miami Heat season

Heat forward Josh Richardson congratulates guard Tyler Johnson at the end of Miami’s win in Orlando on Saturday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

ORLANDO – The Miami Heat enter the New Year poised to make a playoff run.

The Heat are among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference and just a game and a half away from the No. 4 seed.

And although it’s early to be talking about playoff position with more than half the season remaining, the Heat are very aware of where they stand, especially since this is when they essentially took themselves out of the playoffs a year ago and had to scratch and claw to get into the race before falling one game short.

So, as we ring in the New Year, we bring you five things to like and dislike about the 2017 portion of the Heat season.

And we start with the positive.

Five things to like entering the New Year:

Two games above .500: It has been a grind but the Heat somehow enter 2018 with a 19-17 record and among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference. The biggest win of the season was the last one, rallying from an 18-point third quarter deficit and outscoring the Magic, 67-45, in the second half to escape with the victory. The win was significant because it came after an ugly home loss to the Nets, puts the Heat two-games above .500 and gives them nine more wins than they had at this time last season, when they rang in the New Year at 10-24.

Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson: Richardson, the third-year swingman out of Tennessee was Miami’s best player in December averaging 17.4 points on 54.6 percent from the floor and 46.8 from threes for the month. The 6-foot-6 Richardson’s confidence has grown in his offensive games and he continues to be a lockdown defender. Opposing players are shooting 5.8 percent below their average when facing Richardson, which is fourth in the league among forwards who have faced at least 300 shots. Johnson has been Robin to Richardson’s Batman recently averaging  19.6 points in his last five games and 12.1 this season. Johnson had six games of at least 19 points in December.

Watching Bam Adebayo grow: The development of the 14th overall pick of the draft has been fast tracked because of the Hassan Whiteside’s bone bruises on his left knee. The 6-10 center has played in 27 games, starting 10, and is averaging 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 60 percent. Adebayo, still just 20 years old, has stepped it up as a starter, averaging 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds. Even more impressive has been his defense as Adebayo has shown an ability to guard bigs in the post and step out against quicker, smaller players like Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler. “He’s a computer,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So every single game he’s putting it – every experience – into that computer and he’s learning at such a rapid pace.”

Dialing it up from long distance: The Heat are on pace to smash the 3-point shooting records they set last season when they established franchise highs for makes (9.9 per game) and attempts (27.0). This season, Miami’s 11.5 per game is seventh in the league and they are just 17 threes behind No. 4 Golden State. Miami launches 31.3 threes a game, sixth most. And when talking threes, the first name that comes to mind is Wayne Ellington. Miami’s 3-point specialist has taken his long-distance shooting to another stratosphere. He has made more threes than any reserve in the league, 101, which is fifth overall. He has attempted 329 for a 42.3 percent.

Dig deep: The Heat are among the deepest teams in the league, something that has helped keep the season afloat in another year defined by injuries. Miami has eight players averaging double figures. Only Brooklyn with nine has more and just two other teams have as many as seven. The depth comes with versatility allowing Spoelstra, who already has rolled out 11 different starting lineups, to mix and match with his lineups and rotations.

Five things not to like

    Inconsistency: Miami has hovered around the .500 mark, never falling more than two games below or climbing more than two games above, because of its inconsistency, which at times has had Spoelstra at a loss for words. … like Friday. “Obviously, this is an extremely challenging team to figure out,” Spoelstra said following the loss to the Nets, a game in which the Heat trailed by 38 points in the third quarter. This isn’t the first time Spoelstra appeared flustered. The Heat have been hammered by at least 24 points in four games. Yet, they followed 26-point home loss to Indiana with wins against Boston and at Minnesota. A loss at Atlanta with a win at Boston. And that embarrassing loss to Brooklyn Friday came 24 hours before Miami rallied in Orlando.

Injuries: This has become a reoccurring theme for the Heat the last three seasons. Last year Miami led the NBA with 328 player games lost to injury and illness. Not much has changed. Right now, five players are sidelined with James Johnson (ankle) and Justise Winslow (knee), the most likely to return soon. Dion Waiters’ (ankle) is out indefinitely and Rodney McGruder (leg) has missed the entire season but should return sometime in January while Okaro White (foot) also remains sidelined.

Home court disadvantage: The biggest mystery of the season has been Miami’s uneven play on its home court. The Heat enter the New Year 8-9 at AmericanAirlines Arena, one of two teams in the league with a winning record on the road and losing record at home. And it’s the ugliness of some of those losses, 28 points to Golden State, 25 points to Indiana, 24 points to the Nets on Friday, 17 points to San Antonio and 15 to New Orleans. The Heat start the New Year with three straight home games.

Dion Waiters: When Miami signed Waiters to a four-year, $52 million deal in July, they were hoping they could get the player who helped revive the team the second half of last season. Instead, they are seeing the player who had an uneven start to the 2016-17 season and now one who re-sprained his left ankle and is out indefinitely. Waiters is averaging 14.3 points while shooting an inefficient 39.8 percent from the floor and 30.6 percent on threes. In addition, he is on pace for a career high with 2.3 turnovers per game.

Chain of turnovers: Contributing to the Heat’s inconsistency has been its inability to take care of the ball. Though the numbers have declined slightly, the Heat are 20th in the league, averaging 14.6 per game. This number is up two per game from last season when Miami tied for ninth with Boston for the fewest in the league. Miami has had three games with at least 20 turnovers and eight with 17 or more.

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