After a memorable 2016-17 season, the Miami Heat are running it back

The 2016-17 season was one to remember for the Miami Heat, but left them wanting more. The team believes they can do more in 2017-18.

When you think of the Miami Heat, you think of Dwyane Wade. Perhaps fans who started watching during the Big Three era also think of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Maybe you think of Ray Allen and his electrifying shot that saved Miami from despair in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. What do all of these players have in common? None of them represent the Miami Heat anymore.

On the flip side, what do players such as Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington have in common? Just a few seasons ago, no casual NBA fan paid much attention to any of these guys. And it is for this very reason that this team just might shock the league next season.

2016 was rough. Heat fans watched as Dwyane Wade, the face of the franchise, left to play for his hometown Chicago Bulls. Fans watched as stumbled out of the gates to an abysmal 11-30 record over the first half of the season. They watched as Justise Winslow was sidelined for the entire season with a shoulder injury. They watched as their team was struck by injury after injury. At this point, Heat fans just hoped the season would end quickly, in hopes of landing a high draft pick.

Read More: Projecting the 2017-18 Heat depth chart

But then, the calendar turned to 2017.

First, the Heat defeated the Houston Rockets. This was undoubtedly a shocking win, as the Rockets were one of the best five teams in the entire league this past season. This win was shrugged off as a fluke. The Heat then went on to win two more consecutive games. It had been a while since the team won three straight games, so Heat fans started to take notice. Maybe the fans started to show signs of life again. That is, until they noticed who the Heat were playing next: the Golden State Warriors. As a Heat fan myself, when I saw this, I thought, Well that was a nice little three-game win streak. Time to go back to losing. Regardless, I went online and watched the game.

I watched as this rag-tag group of misfit players went toe-to-toe with the best team in the NBA. Heat fans watched as the All-Star lineup of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green seemingly had no answer for the trio of Dion Waiters, Hassan Whiteside, and Goran Dragic.

We watched as Kevin Durant drove in for a dunk that tied the game at 102 with 11 seconds left on the clock. I wasn’t surprised. I thought to myself, Surely the Warriors can take care of this Heat team that’s one of the worst teams in the league. I mean, they’re the Warriors.

But then, Dion Waiters happened. I watched the biggest shot of Miami’s season. I watched as Waiters, an unaccomplished yet notoriously confident young shooting guard, looked Klay Thompson, one of the premier defenders in the league, dead in the eye and pulled up for a 3-pointer. I watched in disbelief as the shot flicked through the net and every person in the AmericanAirlines Arena stood up and screamed. The Miami Heat had just defeated the Golden State Warriors.

Sure, this game was just a meaningless regular season game. In the grand scheme of things, this game hardly mattered at all. The Warriors enjoyed a dominant victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and won the 2017 NBA Finals. I doubt anyone in Oakland cared about that game at all.

To Heat fans, however, Waiters’ shot was about as memorable as we’ve seen. That shot added gasoline to the Heat’s 13-game win streak that took the league by storm. That shot instilled confidence and swagger in a group full of underdogs. Miami fans finally had something to be excited about for the first time all season.

Suddenly, after being one of the worst teams in the entire league, the team was in playoff contention. Heat fans watched as the team beat the Warriors, Rockets, Cavaliers, Wizards, Raptors, and so on. And just as the playoff hopes started to look brighter and brighter, the season was over. Miami finished with a 41-41 record, just narrowly missing the playoffs due to a tiebreaker with the Bulls. Wade’s Bulls.

Missing the playoffs after having the greatest mid-season turnaround in NBA history was devastating. Nevertheless, the league took notice of what Miami had accomplished. Head coach Erik Spoelstra finished as a top three finalist for NBA Coach of the Year. More than anything, however, this loss fueled a fire in Miami. It fueled a fire in the players, in Spoelstra, in team president Pat Riley, and everyone in between.

And now, Whiteside, Waiters, Dragic, and James Johnson have all returned to serve as the core of the team. Ellington, Josh Richardson, Okaro White, Rodney McGruder, and Tyler Johnson are back.

Miami signed free agent Kelly Olynyk, former Boston Celtic, whose grit and scrappy playing style perfectly fit the Heat culture. Winslow will be healthy and ready for redemption. Bam Adebayo, the newly drafted big man who thrives on his versatility and athleticism, has joined the force. And last but not least, the captain and heart of the team, Udonis Haslem, is also back.

This team will not settle or rest until they take back what they believe is rightfully theirs: a spot in the playoffs, fighting for the championship.

Let’s run it back.