The Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks have dominated the conversation in the Eastern Conference for much of the last year and beyond, but the Miami Heat are playing some pretty good basketball. With Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and others, they’re 11-6 and just a game-and-a-half behind the Cavs for the top spot in the East.
If this is surprising to you, well, it isn’t surprising to Miami.
“We have a talented roster,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “You need players with talent to compete in this league and we definitely have a talented roster. You talk about the guys who we brought in and the guys who have been there. The talent is there.”
Indeed, Wade, 33, is still playing at a high level. He has 58 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and six steals over this last two games.
“Age is a number,” said Haslem, 35, “but I think you manage it right. Right now, the NBA is about maintenance a lot of times. Everything is analytical. You’re managing the minutes, you’re keeping the stats of where guys play better and how many minutes at a time and how can I keep this injury down? Does a guy have to sit out a practice in order to get him to play that night? Everything is so analytical now in the NBA, so age is really not a factor. I consider myself to be the best-conditioned guy on the team regardless of my age. That really doesn’t come into play. I think the way the league is now, everything is manageable just because it goes out to the analytics. I mean, these guys chart numbers on every single thing now in the NBA. You can play until you’re 40 now with the way they chart numbers.”
The Heat went 37-45 and missed the playoffs last year, but if the first few weeks of the season are any indication, Erik Spoelstra has his players are competing at a high level. To be fair, though, that’s nothing new.
Did Spoelstra get enough credit for helping the Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals and two NBA titles?
“Probably not – because that team was a very tough team to coach and team to play for,” Haslem said. “You brought in a lot of future Hall-of-Fame guys, you brought in a lot of guys who have been used to doing things their way for a log period of time. Unlike the Golden State Warriors, who kind of grew up together, we didn’t all grow together. We had our issues with each other and we bumped heads before we finally got it right. One thing we all agreed on is that we all wanted to win the championship. We all wanted to compete. We all would play hard every time we stepped on the floor, but we weren’t always comfortable playing with each other. It took awhile to get to that and credit to Spo. He didn’t back down. He forced our hand to play the game of basketball the right way and to play together.”
Luke Walton is doing the same thing in Golden State. True, the Warriors won the title with Steve Kerr last year, but there’s been no slippage with Walton at the helm. In fact, the Warriors (20-0) are off to the best start in NBA history.
Is Walton doing a great job, or is he just allowing great talent to do what it does?
“They do have a great roster and they know how to play the game and they have a very high basketball IQ and they’re led by obviously Curry, Draymond Green – those guys pretty much run the ship,” Haslem said. “But as a coach, you want a team that can run the ship. You don’t want to have to be yelling every day. You don’t want to have to be making guys run suicides or stopping practice because guys are not focused or guys are not running the plays or the practice is not crisp or different things like that. You would love to have a team like that in a perfect world for a coach. That takes nothing away from Luke Walton. I think he’s doing an unbelievable job with those guys. But yeah, you would want to have a team of guys who can kind of police themselves.”