By Frank McLean
Like cats, which according to legend have nine lives, the Miami Heat still have improbable life left in their 2016-2017 NBA season.
Friday with just 10-men dressed they scratched and clawed with the Toronto Raptors only to lose 96-94 and see their miracle playoff run pretty much get down to their last gasp.
Then sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference just behind Chicago, the Heat kept hope alive with a 106-103 win over the playoff bound Wizards while Chicago coughed up the improbable 107-106 loss to the last place Nets to bring both teams records to 39-41. Only a tie-breaker now stands between the Heat and a postseason berth with two games left.
The story of how the Heat got here is like the proverbial cat with nine lives.
On January 13th the Heat finished up a 1-and-5 road trip with a loss in Milwaukee. That loss put the Heat at 11-and-30 to start the season and if you suggested they had a shot at the playoffs you would have been laughed right out of the room. In reality the thought of tanking and trying to get a high pick in the draft lottery would have been more like it.
But then the Heat did the unthinkable and ran off a 13-game winning streak to improve their record to 24-30 and get right back in the playoff picture.
Since then, including Friday’s loss in Toronto, they have gone 14-11 and are at 38-41 they became the first team in the long history of the NBA to reach the 38-win total after starting a season 19-games below .500.
A smiling Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calls the run his team has been on a challenge.
“We call it a challenge that’s the way it has been the last two-two and a half months. It has been like March madness, every game has been an elimination game.”
“Look our guy’s want this everybody knows what’s at stake,” Spoelstra added. “Our guy’s leave this out there every single night. I want them to enjoy this. These games are a privilege to play in, games that matter”.
There is no argument that the Heat don’t leave it on the floor every night. Look at Friday’s game. Every time the Raptors tried to pull away in the fourth quarter, the undermanned Heat would fight back. Down five points with 4.8 seconds left there was no letting up as Josh Richardson came down the floor and hit a desperation three pointer with 1.2 seconds left on the clock to cut the score to 96-94. But they just ran out of time.
Friday’s line-up featured two rookies from the NBDL Okaro White and Rodney McGruder who was in the starting five.
And pressed into a starting role is the slimmed down former Raptor James Johnson who says he is in the best shape of his career with a weight down below 250-pounds and five percent body fat. Spoelstra says that he doesn’t know where his team would be without Johnson.
The Heat finish up their schedule with a pair home games against Cleveland and Washington again, however, Chicago seems to have the easier schedule to finish the year.
The Bulls get Orlando and then Brooklyn again, so when you look at each team’s schedule the Heat have it tough, but as Spoelstra says, it’s lets go time.
“Let’s go to the next game, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. On to the next battle, people think that there are no meaningful games in the NBA. Well tune into the Miami Heat where every game is competitive.”
The Heat’s chances don’t look good, but they are going to go down fighting. That has been their M.O. since midway in January. No reason to think that will change now.