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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Column: Despite missing playoffs, Heat’s season still one to be proud of

<p>Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts during the closing minutes of the second half of an NBA basketball game Washington Wizards in Washington, Saturday, April 8, 2017. Miami won 106-103. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)</p>

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts during the closing minutes of the second half of an NBA basketball game Washington Wizards in Washington, Saturday, April 8, 2017. Miami won 106-103. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Miami Heat’s 2016-17 season came to an abrupt end on Wednesday night.

Needing a win in game No. 82 and a loss by either the Chicago Bulls or the Indiana Pacers, the Heat did their part.

Miami used a complete effort to defeat the Washington Wizards 110-102 in American Airlines Arena.

But the Bulls and Pacers didn’t do their parts.

Chicago defeated a depleted Brooklyn Nets squad 112-73, and Indiana took down the Atlanta Hawks 104-86, ensuring the Heat would come up one game shy of making the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

However, despite missing the playoffs for the second time in three years, I believe Miami can still be proud of what accomplished this season.

After starting the season 11-30, the Heat completed one of the greatest turnarounds in NBA history, finishing the year at 41-41 with the win over the Wizards.

It was their fourth team in franchise history to win 30 games in the second half of the season, and only the Golden State Warriors had a better record than Miami after Jan. 14.

Prior to the Heat’s 19-game march back to .500, no team in league history had rallied from more than 12 games under .500 to finish even or better.

Miami would have been the first team to make the playoffs after overcoming such an early setback.

“You can see everybody cares on this team. We were really fighting to make the playoffs,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic told the Miami Herald.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t make it. This is one of my most favorite teams that I’ve been a part of. I would go to battle with those guys any day… . You cannot achieve more as a group chemistry wise.”

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I’ll admit it: I’m an avid Heat fan. And nearly halfway through the season, even I thought this team was laughable.

I was frustrated with guys like James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters and Dragic. I thought this team was destined for a top-three lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The players didn’t mesh, the offense was atrocious and the defense was worse.

But they overcame those obstacles, and in the process, discovered quality players I would love to see stay in a Miami Heat uniform.

James Johnson, in my opinion, should be this year’s recipient of the Most Improved Player award. The 30-year-old forward had, by far, the best season of his eight-year career, averaging 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 blocks per game.

Waiters proved to be the Heat’s closer, knocking off several teams with last-second heroics. The 25-year-old, who was integral in Miami’s 13-game win streak, averaged 15.8 points per game, bringing his career back from the dead.

Dragic and starting center Hassan Whiteside solidified themselves as cornerstones of the franchise. Dragic averaged over 20 points per game for the second time in his career (he was Miami’s leading scorer), and Whiteside added 17 points and a league-best 14.1 rebounds per game. After leading the NBA in blocks last season, Whiteside is the first player in Heat history to lead the league in rebounding.

This season may not have turned out to be what fans and players wanted. But give credit where credit is due.

A few months ago, I would have never dreamed Miami would have a chance at making the playoffs.

Thanks, Miami (and coach Erik Spoelstra) for making this one of the most fun, memorable seasons in a long time.

Ray Boone is a sports writer. His columns appear on Fridays. Contact him at rboone@alligator.org, and follow him on Twitter @rboone1994.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts during the closing minutes of the second half of an NBA basketball game Washington Wizards in Washington, Saturday, April 8, 2017. Miami won 106-103. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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