MIAMI (AP) Everyone knows what went wrong for the Miami Heat a year ago. Chris Bosh got sick and missed half the season, Dwyane Wade was sidelined for 20 games with injuries, LeBron James left town and the Heat run of playoff appearances came to a screeching halt.
That was then.
These days, the Heat are more consumed with thinking about what went right. They swung a deal to acquire point guard Goran Dragic, found a possible star center off the NBA’s scrap heap in Hassan Whiteside, got lucky on draft night to land Justise Winslow with the No. 10 pick. And since last season ended, Bosh and Josh McRoberts got healthier, Wade and Dragic re-signed and some bench roles were filled at bargain prices by Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green.
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Given all that, the reasons why Miami is optimistic going into this season are understandable.
”Coming together and trying to put together a team that can compete for title, that’s far more motivating and powerful than the pain of last year,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”That lasted a couple weeks. Then every ounce of energy and focus was about trying to do whatever we had to do to build this team up and have an opportunity to do something special.”
The Heat fully expect to contend in the Eastern Conference, and a presumed starting lineup of Dragic, Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh and Whiteside certainly looks good enough on paper to lead Miami back to the playoffs for what would be the 17th time in 21 seasons. But a second unit featuring some combination of Mario Chalmers, Tyler Johnson, rookie Josh Richardson, Green, McRoberts, Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen has Miami equally excited.
”You look around this gym, we’ve got the pieces,” Wade said. ”Now it’s about finding a way and finding that way together.”
In short, the Heat think they got substantially better through signings and the improved health of Bosh (blood clots) and McRoberts, who is still working his way to full strength after knee surgery.
”We have expectations for a reason,” Spoelstra said.
Here’s some of what to know about the Heat heading into this season:
WADE WATCH: Wade enters the season No. 54 on the all-time NBA scoring list. Odds are, he’ll be in the top 50 before long. He has scored 18,812 points, which puts him only 10 behind No. 53 Isiah Thomas, 19 behind No. 52 Chet Walker, 128 behind No. 51 Scottie Pippen and 192 behind No. 50 Dale Ellis. Factor in playoff games, and Wade is already 38th on the NBA all-time list – as well as ninth among all active players.
OPENING TESTS: The Heat are going to be tested plenty in the first seven days of their season. After opening the schedule with Charlotte on Oct. 28, Miami’s next three games are against teams that reached the conference finals last season – at Cleveland, home against Houston and home against Atlanta. But once they finish that stretch, the Heat will be playing 10 of their next 11 games against teams that didn’t reach last season’s playoffs.
DRAGIC’S FINISHES: Helped by 86 dunks, Whiteside topped the Heat charts last season by making 71 percent of his shots at the rim. Dragic was No. 2 on that list at nearly 68 percent, and he was helped by exactly zero dunks. Dragic’s ability to finish at the rim is uncanny at times and on a team that values spacing and lanes to the basket as much as Miami does, it’s just another reason why the Heat wanted so desperately to keep him.
GOING LEFT: Imagine this lineup – Dragic and Johnson in the backcourt, Winslow and McRoberts at forward, with Bosh at center. It certainly could happen at times, and if it does the Heat will have a true rarity with five left-handed shooters on the floor at one time. ”Now that I think about it, that could be something very cool,” Bosh said. McRoberts is actually right-handed, but shoots left.
RILEY LEADS: Last season was aberrant for the Heat, and the team’s record since Pat Riley joined the franchise 20 years ago supports that. Since Riley – the former Heat coach and now team president – arrived in South Florida, Miami’s record including playoff games is 1,031-758 (.576). That’s third-best in the league over that span, behind only San Antonio (1,241-607, .672) and the Los Angeles Lakers (1,117-706, .613).