The Miami Heat almost overcame the departure of the last of the big three in the 2016-17, only to fall agonisingly short of the playoffs.
Chris Bosh missed the final stages of the 2015-16 campaign due to blood clotting issues, and was not medically cleared to play for the next term, effectively ending his career with the team.
Dwyane Wade played his final basketball for Erik Spoelstra’s men in 2016, exiting the club after 13 years and three NBA Championships to join the Chicago Bulls.
Wade’s departure closed the chapter for the big three, which included LeBron James for four seasons. Their time together brought Miami two titles along with two other appearances in the NBA Finals, but general manager Pat Riley and Spoelstra were faced with the task of a rebuild.
Hassan Whiteside and Rodney McGruder were handed contract extensions by the club, putting their faith in the younger players on their roster.
Dion Waiters made the switch during the off-season from the Oklahoma City Thunder, although he was one of the only notable players to join the Heat through free agency.
The lack of draft picks in 2016 also restricted options for Spoelstra, but he managed to rise to the occasion and guide the Heat to a .500 record, getting the most out of his inexperienced roster.
However, Miami just missed out on the post-season, despite an impressive end of the campaign. They’ve attempted to make strides forward again in the off-season, but their options have been limited once again, with the likelihood of a long road ahead for the club to return to greatness.
One of the reasons for Miami’s failure to reach the post-season was their poor start to the campaign, with the club being well below .500 after the opening three months of the term.
The season did begin with a win over the Orlando Magic on the road thanks to a strong performance from Whiteside, notching 18 points and 14 rebounds that would be a common theme throughout the term.
Whiteside continued his form against the Charlotte Hornets and the San Antonio Spurs, but both matches ended in defeat, although Goran Dragic led a response at the beginning of November to lead his side to victory over the Sacramento Kings in overtime at American Airlines Arena.
However, the win over the Kings would be the final time that the Heat would be at the .500 mark until the bitter end of the season.
Their decline began with a defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors on the road and five losses on the bounce followed, despite a strong effort from Waiters in a narrow loss at the hands of the Spurs.
Back-to-back victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and the Washington Wizards, highlighted the potential of Spoelstra’s side, but four defeats out of six to end the month put them off the pace.
Dragic and Whiteside were displaying signs of promise in December, but the lack of support around the duo led to the club’s worst month of the campaign. Solid wins over the Utah Jazz and the Wizards were stymied by lengthy runs of consecutive defeats, including four losses on the bounce over the Christmas period, ending 2016 with a poor result on the road against the Boston Celtics.
The new year began in a similar fashion as the old one ended, suffering a defeat in their opener against the Detroit Pistons, while another followed at the hands of the Suns.
Tyler Johnson inspired a win over the Kings to end the series of losses, but four defeats on the bounce all but confirmed that the club would not be competing in the post-season.
However, out of nowhere, Spoelstra’s men came to life in the middle of January with an outstanding run of form to give them a glimmer of hope.
A victory over the Houston Rockets sparked a 13-match winning run that stretched into February, and included a brilliant win against the Golden State Warriors on home soil thanks to a 33-point outing from Waiters.
Dragic, Whiteside and Waiters continued to operate at a high level to take their side from 11 wins to a 24-30 record, which was only ended in a close defeat at the hands of the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Three wins on the bounce, including triumphs on the road against the Rockets and the Atlanta Hawks rebuilt their confidence, sending them into the stretch run with momentum
The improvement in Miami’s play from the start of the term was staggering, highlighting in two dominant performances to knock off the Cleveland Cavaliers in back-to-back games.
Although Whiteside and Dragic continued to perform well their quest to drive the Heat over .500 was denied in March by a loss to the Knicks on home soil.
That defeat proved to be the death knell in their playoff hopes as not even three wins in a row to end the campaign allowed them to beat out the Bulls, who gained their place based on their head-to-head record over the campaign.
The Heat were frustrated in their bid to improve their roster, with Gordon Hayward opting to sign for the Boston Celtics rather than Spoelstra’s men. Kelly Olynyk signed a four-year deal to offer competition on the roster, although his time with the Celtics was hit-and-miss.
He did put in one quality performance in the playoffs against the Wizards and if he can replicate that on a consistent basis for the Florida-based outfit, the 26-year-old could well be a savvy addition.
Waiters has penned an extension after his promising debut campaign with Heat and he will be hopeful of putting together back-to-back seasons of solid performances.
Whiteside was the NBA’s dominant defender in the 2016-17 term. No player had more rebounds than the forward, averaging 14.1 points per game, while his statistics for blocks over the course of the campaign were equally impressive – ranking fourth in the league.
Should he maintain the standard of his performances, the Heat have a strong player to build their side around for the coming years along with Dragic.
One player that has to take a step forward in his development is Justise Winslow. The 21-year-old was selected 10th overall in 2015 and has shown promise in limited action, but injuries curtailed his sophomore season.
Should he rise to the occasion – then the Heat could make an impact in the Eastern Conference at odds of +3300 with Bet365, although they will need to perform above expectations again to challenge the Celtics and the Cavaliers.
For US betters check out this list of bookmakers – https://www.sbo.net/country/us/ – in order to get the best odds for the 2017-18 season.
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