Monday , Mar , 29 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Heat appear to be headed back to the postseason

(Sports Network) – The Miami Heat should make the playoffs for the first time
since the 2000-01 season.

With nine games left on their schedule, the Heat are in sixth place in the
Eastern Conference. Miami, which trails the fifth-place Milwaukee Bucks by
just one game, holds a 1 1/2 game lead over seventh-place New York and is two
games ahead of No. 8 Boston. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in ninth place, 1/2
game in back of the Celtics.

The Heat play four of their final nine games at home, where they are an
impressive 25-12. Miami hosts the Chicago Bulls, Boston, Cleveland and New
Jersey. The combined road record of the teams the Heat will host is 52-92.

In their final five road contests, Miami will visit Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago,
Cleveland and Boston. The Heat’s road opponents are a combined 92-90 at home.

First-year head coach Stan Van Gundy, who took over after Pat Riley decided he
did not want to be the coach anymore just days before the start of the season,
has done an incredible job. Van Gundy, who is the brother of Houston’s general
Jeff Van Gundy, deserve serious consideration for Coach of the Year honors.

Miami started its season with seven straight losses and was a dismal 5-15
after 20 games. Since December 6, 2003, the Heat have gone 30-23.

There is a lot of talent on Miami’s roster. The Heat, like most Eastern
Conference squads, do not have the dominant inside presence that it takes to
win a championship, but they do have an athletic team that can run the floor
score a lot of points.

The Heat, who have scored at least 90 points 38 times this season and have
posted at least 100 points in 17 games, have been led by guard Eddie Jones and
forward Lamar Odom.

A 10-year veteran, Jones, who is playing in his fourth season with the Heat,
leads Miami in scoring at 17.7 points per game. He has started all 72 games
that he has appeared in and has scored in double digits in 65 of those
contests. The 32-year-old Jones is explosive and can light it up from anywhere
on the court.

The 24-year-old Odom, who signed with the Heat in the offseason after the
Clippers did not match the offer from Miami, is having an outstanding season.
He is second on the team in scoring (17.1 ppg), leads the Heat in rebounding
(9.9 rpg) and is second in assists (4.3 apg).

Like Jones, the 6-10 Odom is explosive and is deadly from the outside.
Odom, who can play power forward, small forward or shooting guard, gives Stan
Van Gundy a lot of options and causes matchup problems for Miami’s opponents.

Marquette product Dwyane Wade, who had missed 21 games because of injuries, is
having a solid rookie campaign. The point guard Wade, who was drafted fifth
overall by Miami in the 2003 NBA Draft, has averaged 16.7 points and 4.5
assists in his first 52 games in the NBA. Like Jones and Odom, Wade is also an
athletic type of player who can run the floor and has the ability to put up
big numbers in the scoring column. He has scored 20 or more points 17 times
and registered a career-high 33 points on December 21, 2003 against Golden
State.

Along with Jones, Odom and Wade, the Heat have also received solid
contributions from guard Rafer Alston, center Brian Grant and rookie forward
Udonis Haslem.

Alston, who is one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters at 36.7 percent, has
played in all 73 of Miami’s games this season. He has averaged 10.2 points and
is tied with Wade for most assists per game.

The veteran Grant, who is playing in his 10th season in the league, has
averaged 8.6 points and is second on the team in rebounding (7.2 rpg), while
Haslem has posted 7.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in his first year.

Forward Caron Butler, who has had a disappointing sophomore season, is
averaging just 8.5 points which is down from the 15.4 that he averaged in his
rookie campaign in 2002-03. If Butler can regain his first-year form than the
Heat would get a big boost that would show in the standings.

The Heat have a nice mix of athletic players. The problem with Miami is that
it does not have the style of play that wins in the playoffs.

If Miami makes it to the postseason, the Heat will most likely matchup with
either the Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons or the New Jersey Nets. It will be
a short-lived playoff for the Heat. But, who would have thought that Miami
would have any chance of making the playoffs after its brutal start.

MIA