The Miami Heat have faced their share of adversity this season. Numerous key players have had the injury bug and furthermore, they’ve had a few more guys than that have a stint in the Health and Safety Protocols.
Despite these things going against the Heat, Miami still finds itself atop the Southeast Division at the midway point of the season. Let’s take a look at how they got to this point.
Looking at the Heat’s division rivals, it is clear to see that Miami is not the only squad dealing with the dreaded league-wide Protocols. Orlando, Atlanta, Washington, and Charlotte have all had various degrees of health concerns as the season has progressed.
Because of Miami’s extreme roster depth, the Heat have been able to maintain a substantial lead for the majority of the first half of the season. Miami currently sits four games ahead of the second-place Hornets.
Now that the NBA has adapted its Protocol rules to allow players to return sooner, the Southeast Division remains fairly competitive. Except for the bottom-dwelling Magic, who are 17 games behind the Heat, the whole division is within six games of first place.
Charlotte is welcoming back a fully healthy roster for the first time in a few weeks. Washington is not fading away as quickly as one might have thought.
The Miami Heat have been the toast of their division all year long. And while that doesn’t matter for playoffs anymore, they should still want dominance.
Atlanta, who made the Eastern Conference Finals last season, is staying within striking distance and capable of making a deadly run at any moment thanks to Trae Young.
While the Heat are 7-3 in their last 10 games, all it takes is a string of bad games to find yourself looking up at one of your division rivals. With Jimmy Butler on the sidelines and Bam Adebayo not yet ready for a return, the next week-plus will be pivotal for Miami.
If the Heat can survive the next string of games and make it to the middle of January in first place, their odds to win the Southeast will rise dramatically. If they start dropping winnable games, their comfortable lead could start to slip through their fingers.
To round out a difficult mid-season schedule for Miami, the Heat and Hawks play back-to-back home-and-home games on January 12 and 14. That’s all before they play again on January 21 in Atlanta.
This mini three-game series could prove to be the most important of the regular season. If Miami sweeps, they could bury their rival.
If Atlanta sweeps, they could be division leaders and completely take control of the rest of the season.
While it may be too early to start thinking about the playoffs, these types of mini-sets make the regular-season feel like the post-season. In order to maintain pace in the Southeast, Miami needs to win this series.
That’s how the Miami Heat keep a leg-up in the race.