Based on the 21-20 record at midseason you might not know it, but that was the easy part.
Because now, winter is coming for the Miami Heat, with the types of challenges that Erik Spoelstra’s team has yet to truly face this season.
As a matter of perspective, based on records of the opposition at the time the games have been played, the Heat played the NBA’s third-easiest schedule over their first 41 games.
But now? According to Tankathon.com, only three teams in the Eastern Conference have a more challenging second half of the schedule.
And that does not even get into the imminent travel concerns, such as:
— Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks opens a four-game trip.
— Which opens a run of 6 of 7 on the road.
— Which is part of a stretch of 12 of 16 away from AmericanAirlines Arena.
To put that into perspective, the Heat will have four home games between now and Feb. 23.
Such is the result of playing 23 of 41 home games over the first half of the schedule.
And such is the pain of going only 11-12 in those 23.
While the remaining schedule does afford the luxuries of two games apiece against the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, those also are the types of teams that have left the Heat in the middle of the pack, with a 10-9 record against sub-.500 competition.
From here, three games remain against the resurgent Bucks, two against the league-leading Toronto Raptors, two against the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, as well as an intense closing schedule in April that features a pair of games against the Boston Celtics, as well as single games against the Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, with six of the final eight on the road.
In the short run, the majority of the next 16 are against teams currently with playoff seeds.
In the middle of that challenge will come both the Feb. 7 NBA trading deadline and a seven-day layoff from Feb. 14 to Feb. 20 to recharge during the All-Star break.
For now, as one would expect from a Spoelstra team, it all is about living in the moment, a moment that follows with games against the Bucks and Celtics bookending the impending four-game trip.
“Just get the job done, however that may be, stay connected,” said Justise Winslow, who continues to settle in at point guard, with Goran Dragic not expected back from last month’s knee surgery until the All-Star break. “Right now, we’re getting a lot of guys back and the connection is there on both ends of the floor, from the coaching staff, all the way down the bench, everyone’s connected, everyone knows what we’re trying to get accomplished on both ends of the floor.
“So we’ve just got to continue to play for each other. But the mindset is always to get a win. No matter who we’re playing any given night, the mindset is to get a win. So we’re going on this road trip trying to get four wins.”
There is a history of success over the second half of seasons for the Heat in recent years, most notably the 30-11 run to close 2016-17. And the last time Dwyane Wade was on the roster for a full season, the Heat closed 25-16 over the final 41 in 2015-16.
“We’ve got some tough games, starting in Milwaukee,” Wade said. “But we’ve got a game that can travel if we play the game that we know we can. So we want to go out there obviously with that same mindset, to do whatever needs to be done. And we’re going to take our defense on the road. We’re not going to win on the road without our defense, so we definitely need to pack that.”
As for the winter that’s coming, it will start with a 25-degree night in Milwaukee, forecast snow showers in Detroit, more of the same but colder in Chicago, with a long-range low of 9 degrees the day of the trip-closing game in Boston on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“It’s just us up there, hostile environments, against some good teams,” forward Josh Richardson said, “so we’re going to have to bring our hard hats and just do what we do.”
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