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That’s Amar’e: The Heat light the fire in an unexpected way

The Miami Heat’s season was about to fall off a cliff.

Everyone knew the pronounced sense of peril which had engulfed the Heat’s 2015-2016 campaign. The team squandered a number of home games against opponents with inferior records. Miami had a schedule which was frontloaded with home dates, so when the team failed to gain separation from the rest of the non-Cleveland Eastern Conference, the Heat were in hot water.

Beginning on Jan. 8, Miami had to play 11 of 12 games on the road. The Heat have endured persistently deficient shooting performances — they simply do not hit threes well enough to field a balanced offense which earns the full respect of opposing defenses. Miami was regularly taking the court in January without a particularly credible perimeter offense. When defensive anchor Hassan Whiteside got injured on Jan. 20 against the Washington Wizards, a depleted Heat roster didn’t just endure another hit; it lost its prime interior defender.

Thin roster. Deficient perimeter offense. Depleted interior defense and inadequate rim protection.

The Heat lost seven of eight in this month spent almost entirely on the road (one loss being the single home game in that 12-game sequence). They tumbled to 23-21 and — in a state of freefall — had to face the very real possibility that they would miss the playoffs entirely.

What was this team going to do to arrest its slide and somehow survive the end of a January filled with flights, late nights, and hotels?

Would you have believed that Amar’e Stoudemire became the answer to the Heat’s problems?

It’s a script no one would have written 10 days ago.


The Heat wake up on Monday morning, at the start of February, with a four-game winning streak; a 27-21 record; and the third spot in the East, following an 18-point shellacking of the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night in Miami. Stoudemire posted 13 points and 12 boards, part of a forcefully-authored renaissance which has abruptly altered the trajectory of the Heat’s season. It’s entirely true that in this season’s Eastern Conference, upswings don’t typically last very long; the Heat have a lot to prove to the NBA in terms of being able to sustain what they’ve started. Nevertheless, the emergence of Stoudemire comes as a revelation and a most unlikely plot twist. The idea that the Hassan Whiteside injury helped the Heat discover a better lineup combination and style of play is the kind of thing which leaves experts at a loss for words.

Yet, what other conclusion is there to be reached? Consider what Ethan Skolnick of the Miami Herald put together after the Heat’s win over the reeling Hawks:

Yes, this is a relatively small sample size, but when one realizes how utterly feeble, impotent and brittle the Heat were just a week and a half ago, their robust performance against Atlanta on Sunday — following a three-game road winning streak which included a win in Chicago versus the Bulls — points to a genuine change in identity, not just results.

Whiteside, as special as he might be as a rim protector, is substantially flawed at the offensive end, with his foul shooting being a major (Andre Drummond- or DeAndre Jordan-like) liability. Stoudemire’s upside is no longer what it once was (with the Phoenix Suns a decade ago), but his fundamental offensive competence is making the Heat more cohesive at the offensive end. Miami doesn’t play 4-on-5 as much as it did with Whiteside. The Heat have discovered (not by choice, but necessity) how Stoudemire fits into various lineup combinations.

The unexpected consequences of the Whiteside injury could not have been better for Miami and Spoelstra.

A season which was headed straight for the draft lottery could realistically produce a No. 3 playoff seed. Miami will have to back up this four-game winning streak with two months of legitimately strong basketball, but when you recall where the Heat were headed not too long ago, this past week and a half feels like a completely different universe.

That’s Amar’e.

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.