Plucky Heat crew approaching some of the Big Three’s best streaks

 

A bit of perspective on the Miami Heat’s eight-game win streak, which might stretch longer but stretches the imagination either way.

The Heat only topped this streak five times during the Big Three era.

Miami Heat's Dion Waiters passes the ball in the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Heat’s Dion Waiters passes the ball in the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

One of those times they absolutely crushed it, ripping off 27 wins in a row in February and March of 2013, but the rest of their runs were more in line with what Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic and the fellas are doing now.

Twelve in a row a couple of times for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company, plus single streaks of 10 and nine games each.

I don’t have to tell you that those Heat teams were worlds better than this one. Four straight trips to the NBA Finals. Two championships. Yeah, worlds better than the 2016-17 crew, which against all odds has pushed the record all the way up to 19-30, still outside the wide playoff net.

That’s what blows your mind. Eight straight wins are exceedingly tough to get in any major sport. What’s needed is a highly talented group on a hot streak, not a roster running on fumes.

Here is a listing of the most recent streaks of eight wins or longer for South Florida’s other pro franchises.

Miami Dolphins – Eight wins in a row, 1985. That team was quarterbacked by Hall of Famer Dan Marino and played in the Super Bowl the previous season. The streak included seven in a row to end the regular season plus a playoff win over Cleveland.

Miami Marlins – Nine wins in a row, 2008. We’re going back to the old football-stadium days here and a Marlins payroll that was the lowest in the major leagues. Still, there was a talented group of players on the roster, like Hanley Ramirez and Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson and Dan Uggla, and the final record of 84-77 showed that.

Florida Panthers – Twelve wins in a row, 2015-16. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this streak was the longest ever for a team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs the previous season. The Panthers had plenty of talent, though, enough to win the Atlantic Division and reach the postseason for just the fifth time in franchise history.

Does Erik Spoelstra have a playoff team at the moment, or a team that should surpass .500 by season’s end, or a team led by a Hall of Famer? Certainly not, but the Heat have won eight in a row just the same.

South Florida fans have seen some astonishing win streaks, of course, like 34 in a row by the Miami Hurricanes from 2000-02 and 18 in a row by the dynastic Dolphins (17-0 in 1972 and a win to open the next season).

[Palm Beach County is state’s spring-training showcase now]

[A little candy to treat Dolphins fans sick of Patriots in Super Bowl]

[College football scoring average tops 30 points, and Gators aren’t close]

Can’t let this current Heat run get lost in the shuffle, though. It shouldn’t be happening. No matter the quality of the competition during the streak, from Golden State to lowly Brooklyn, it shouldn’t be happening. The franchise, left behind by LeBron and Dwyane, is making something uncommon happen with a fairly common cast of characters, a specialty of Pat Riley’s organization for some time.

Key to Heat’s rebuilding season will be handling teams like the Kings

“We should play like that every game,” Goran Dragic said Sunday after the Miami Heat pushed hard in a 106-99 loss to regal San Antonio.

If they do, they will win all the games that they should win and surprise a few of the elite teams along the way.

Miami Heat's Goran Dragic tends to Hassan Whiteside after a leg injury in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016 at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic tends to Hassan Whiteside after leg cramps struck the center against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

Tonight’s home game with Sacramento qualifies as one that Miami needs to get in order to keep on pace with any kind of distant postseason fantasy. The Kings missed the playoffs last year at 33-49 and have a 14-game losing streak at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Won’t be easy, though, for Heat big man Hassan Whiteside or anyone else.

Last Thursday Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins had 37 points and 16 rebounds in a 102-94 loss to the Spurs.

Whiteside also was great against the Spurs on Sunday, matching a career-high of 27 points and adding his usual 15 rebounds, but the Spurs rested LaMarcus Aldridge that night. Cousins didn’t get that break when he played San Antonio.

Maybe the best way to do this is to carve up the schedule into pieces.

Miami plays seven playoff teams from last year in the month of November and seven that didn’t qualify. An 8-6 record against that group would be great. To get only five or six wins, on the other hand, would be pretty discouraging since coach Erik Spoelstra is going all out for victories this time of year. The better teams can afford to put it into overdrive later.

[Is FSU over USF the best college football win in our state so far?]

[Unless you’re smarter than me, predicting Dolphins is a coin flip this year]

[Tough recognizing America the last time Indians or Cubs won World Series]

Consider this pregame quote from Sunday when Spo was told that Gregg Popovich would be resting Aldridge and Danny Green against the Heat. Long-term maintenance only.

“Well, we won’t be resting tonight,” said Spo, who got 39 minutes out of Justise Winslow and 35 from Whiteside. ”We know well enough that they can have guys out and it really does not matter.”

File this away, meanwhile, under encouraging signs for the 1-2 Heat.

Dragic scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, really asserting his leadership. That hasn’t been the case in the past against the Spurs. His career average against San Antonio was only 9.0 points coming into this game.

Also, Winslow just missed his career high for points. He scored 18 against the Spurs, two short of the 20 he scored as a rookie against Denver last March.

“That is about as many calories as you can burn in a 39-minute game,” said Spo, “because you’re going up against an MVP-caliber player (Kawhi Leonard). You have to defend and get through all the screens, and on the other end he is required to make a lot of plays.

“He has great maturity for a young player.”

Miami Heat training camp only a month away and it sure doesn’t feel like 37-45 anymore

The Miami Heat are coming off a 37-45 season and it feels pretty darn good.

That’s not the sort of sentiment normally tied to a record like that, but training camp is just a month away (Sept. 26) and it’s time to start ramping up the expectations for the vision of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside finally all running the court at once, plus A’mare Stoudemire and top draft pick Justise Winslow ready to come rumbling in off the bench.

That doesn’t sound or feel like a 37-45 team. That feels like the playoffs.

Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Heat center Chris Bosh on 2014 media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Just to show the difference, psychologically and emotionally, think back to the last Heat team with a similar record.

Miami went 36-46 in the 2001-02 season. Eddie Jones led the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game but he was 30 and looking back on his former all-star years. Alonzo Mourning, one of the toughest players in Heat history, was still a top-five shotblocker and averaging 15.7 points per game but Zo’s days as a Heat regular were coming to a close. He missed the following season because of kidney disease so urgent that it necessitated a transplant.

Pat Riley was coaching the team at the time and depending on veterans like Brian Grant, Rod Strickland and Kendall Gill to play great defense collectively. They did that, but Miami couldn’t find any offensive flow, finishing last in the NBA at 87.2 points per game.

There was little reason to be excited about the following season. Even with promising draft pick Caron Butler joining the team, the Heat bottomed out at 25-57 in 2002-03 and Riley soon stepped aside as coach to start building for a championship run from the front office. Couldn’t see Wade coming in the draft just yet. Couldn’t see much of anything.

[The wide, wide world of football is headed toward 400-pound players]

[Jim McElwain really rolled the dice by not signing at quarterback at UF]

[With Pat Riley, the Heat are never far from raising a banner]

The franchise’s current situation has nothing in common with that dismal outlook. Even though Miami missed the playoffs last year, breaking a six-season string that included two NBA titles, there’s no reason to expect it will happen again.

LeBron James and the Cavaliers are better than Miami. The Chicago Bulls might be. That’s about it in the Eastern Conference.

If something is still needed to whet your appetite, the Heat’s opening preseason game is Oct. 4 vs. Charlotte at AmericanAirlines Arena. Sure, that’s a Sunday, but the Dolphins are playing the Jets in London at 9:30 that morning so there’s no conflict with the 6 p.m. basketball start.

At times like this, it seems South Florida sports fans really can have it all.