Why the Heat are looking forward to their challenging 5-game road trip

Erik Spoelstra says the West-coast swing is "a gauntlet."
Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls
Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls / Jamie Sabau/GettyImages

The Miami Heat are 5.5 games above .500 and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but they expect to be better. That’s why they are hoping their upcoming five-game trip will push the team to greater heights.

Ahead of the Heat’s trip to San Francisco to face the Warriors Thursday night, coach Erik Spoelstra said he looks forward to these trips because playing on the road “tests your team emotionally and physically.”

“We are what our record is right now and we are where we are in the East,” Spoelstra said. “So, yes, I do think going on the road is a good thing.

“It’s a gauntlet," he continued. "We’re aware of the teams we’re playing. It always is a challenge on the road. And I love the environments and I love the way the road tests your team emotionally and physically.”

The Miami Heat will begin their toughest stretch of the season in San Francisco Thursday night against the Warriors.

The Heat will play in San Francisco (Thursday) and head to Utah to play the Jazz (Saturday) before heading to Los Angeles for games against the Clippers (Jan. 1) and Lakers (Jan. 3), then wrap up the trip against the Suns in Phoenix (Jan. 5).

None of those opponents except the Jazz has a losing record, and each poses a unique threat with stars like Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant being featured in this star-studded stretch.

“This is one of those trips where we’re going to need one another,” Bam Adebayo said. “But this is big time for guys to really come together, team camaraderie.”

This is the second long road stint of the season for the Heat, who played nine of 10 games on the road from Nov. 8 to Nov. 25. It’s also tied for the second-longest trip of the season, behind only a six-game trip coming in February.

Fortunately for the Heat, they have played well on the road this season. They won four straight on the road from Nov. 8-14 and, other than the two-win Pistons, are the only team in the league with the same record at home as away (9-6).

But this will be Miami’s most challenging stretch yet, especially if the team will be without Jimmy Butler and other key players. 

Butler, who has missed the last three games with a calf sprain, is expected back at some point during the trip. Haywood Highsmith, who missed the Christmas Day win with the flu, expects to return to the lineup Thursday. Josh Richardson, like Butler, was only a partial participant in Wednesday’s practice while Caleb Martin did not practice because of an ankle sprain. All traveled with the team to San Francisco.

Heat players have combined to miss 91 games with injuries this season, according to Spotrac’s injury tracker, and the team has yet to be fully healthy for any meaningful period. 

With so many elite wings on the schedule, the Heat will need Butler, Highsmith and Martin’s defense, as well as Butler’s offensive firepower.

Though the Heat are in solid position in the East right now, this trip could either sink them in the standings or set them up for a strong second half of the season.