Just when you think the Miami Heat is dead and buried, the team comes out of the All-Star break looking like it spent the time off filming an NBA-themed edition of Extreme Makeover. This pleasant rejuvenation has coincided with the complete absence of both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, proving sports continues to be like the ocean: We think we know a lot about it, but really we know absolutely nothing.
So what exactly has led to the Heat winning three straight overall and eight straight games against Eastern Conference teams? Quite a bit.
1. Justise Winslow has been the Miami Heat's pleco fish.
Winslow's career high in points before the All-Star break was 13. He couldn't shoot a lick. Well, he still can't shoot a lick, but he's found a way to fill just the sludge-sucking, garbage-disposing forward role the Heat sorely lacked in the first half. Winslow has tied or topped his career high in points in all three games since the break, mostly a result of his improved rebounding.
Winslow has been much more comfortable pushing the ball, getting himself or a teammate into a close shot attempt, and then cleaning up any leftover waste if things don't workout on the first try. While Winslow is waiting for his shot to progress, being the Heat's pleco fish — you know, the kind that cleans up all the garbage off the bottom of the tank — is the best way for him to get on the scoreboard. It seems as if he's figured that out more and more as his rookie season has progressed.
2. Hassan Whiteside coming off the bench isn't fair.
Whiteside swinging into the game on a wrecking ball like Miley Cyrus shouldn't be allowed. NBA TV should be playing his 25-point, 23-rebound game off the bench against Washington on a loop like it did when Kobe scored 81. His 19-point, 18-rebound game Monday against the Pacers was just ho-hum in comparison. That's not OK. That's not normal. He's a machine. Whiteside sliding into the game when the other team's best players put a towel over their heads on the bench is the perfect crime, and the Miami Heat has been stealing money since it made the move to starting Amare' Stoudemire.
3. Luol Deng is a zombie.
You know who doesn't give a shit about fingers bent at 90-degree angles? Zombies, that's who. They don't care because they're the undead, and when you're undead, how aesthetically pleasing or operational your index finger is takes a backseat to being undead. Luol Deng died, and now he is very much alive, so scientifically speaking, he is classified as a zombie. For all we know, he has some weird strain of some virus called HTZ or something terrifying-sounding. Deng just went 30-10 for the first time in seven years. Are you absolutely sure he doesn't have the zombie virus?
4. Goran Dragic is playing basketball like Liam Neeson deletes leather-clad French bad guys.
Dragic has a particular set of skills — skills he has acquired over a very long career, skills that make him a nightmare for other teams. If you let him score now, that'll be the end of it. He will not look for you; he will not pursue you. But if you don't, he will look to score on you, he will find you, and he will embarrass you.
Since Dragic has been unchained, he's been flown through NBA defenses like one of Khalessi's dragons. Since the All-Star break, Dragic has been the player Miami thought it was getting when it traded two first-round picks and a bag of stiffs and then ponied up $85 million. In his last two games, Dragic has scored at least 24 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out five assists. That's the set of skills the Heat signed up for, and those are the sort of stat lines that will make the Heat a challenger in the East.
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5. Erik Spoelstra continues to show the #FireSpo crowd why they should delete their account.
If you have been part of the vocal minority that has been calling for Coach Spoelstra's firing this year, help yourself to a heaping spoonful of his ass. Few, if any, coaches in the NBA could turn losing their two All-Stars following the All-Star break into the best run of the season. Spo adapts to his talent. He doesn't have some elaborate triangle-rectangle-octagon system into which he tries to force players. It might take a minute, but rest assured that Coach Spo will figure out the best way to use his talent.
You, #FireSpo Twitter person, are the worst. You're the person who pees on the seat in public restrooms. You're the shitty dude leaving Starbucks who doesn't hold the door open even though you damn well see the other guy has multiple coffees balancing on his head. You're no-turn-signal-on-the-Dolphin-Expressway guy. You're oh-shit-that's-right-I-have-a-SunPass-lemme-cut-all-y'all-off-on-the-Turnpike lady. You're the person who doesn't pick up his dog's shit. Block me back on Twitter.