Events That Drastically Changed Course of the Miami Heat's Season
With a record of 60-16, the Miami Heat have had a 2012-13 season that's featured plenty of ups and few downs.
That's not to say there haven't been any downs along the way. However, what has made this team so special, and part of the reason they are in great position now, is how they've responded to the occasional down along the way.
The Heat are the favorites to win another NBA title because they've used the great moments this season to propel themselves to more success and the not-so-great moments to learn and get better down the road.
Let's take a look at the best and worst moments of the Heat's season.
Dwyane Wade Returns to Form Against the Milwaukee Bucks in Late November
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November was a difficult month for Dwyane Wade.
He was dealing with multiple injuries and his play suffered. In a game on Nov. 11 against the Memphis Grizzlies, he scored just 8 points on 3-of-15 shooting. Three days later on the 14th, he scored just 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting in a contest against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Heat lost both games and Wade missed the next two games because of an injured leg.
Talking heads started to question whether Wade was still an elite player.
Well, Wade returned to action on the 21st against the Milwaukee Bucks and put on a scoring clinic.
He shot 52.4 percent from the floor and finished with 28 points in a Miami win.
Wade has never looked back.
After finishing November averaging just 17.6 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting, Wade has finished every month that has followed with averages of at least 20 points and 50 percent shooting.
Not surprisingly, the talk of Wade's decline has been absent for the past couple of months.
Heat Beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas
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Even as defending champions, the Heat entered Christmas with something to prove.
While Miami had a perfectly fine record at 18-6, the Thunder had a better record at 21-5. Also, the Knicks, who had already beaten Miami twice on the season, were right behind the Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Miami didn't crush the Thunder on Christmas, but they did get the victory with its two stars, LeBron James and Wade, leading the way.
It served as a reminder that even though the Heat didn't have the top record, they still should be the most feared team in the league.
As great as Kevin Durant and the Thunder are, when Miami is at its best, it is awfully tough to defeat.
The Heat played with this knowledge and confidence against the league's best teams going forward, even against the Thunder again in February, and have had excellent results.
Heat Lose to Chicago Bulls on January 4
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The Heat's start to the New Year wasn't so pleasant, as the Chicago Bulls exposed Miami's biggest weakness in an early January game.
The weakness I'm referring to is rebounding, of course.
Chicago demolished the Heat inside and on the glass, grabbing 20 more rebounds than Miami.
The Bulls grabbed an absurd 19 offensive rebounds compared to the Heat's four. Second-chance opportunity after second-chance opportunity for Chicago doomed Miami.
Even 30 points on just 14 shots from James wasn't enough for the Heat to overcome their troubles down low, and the Bulls took down the Heat 96-89.
Following this game, the Heat needed to address this weakness. And, as we'll get into on the following slide, they did.
Heat Sign Chris Andersen on January 20
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Needing help with interior defense and rebounding, Miami signed Chris "Birdman" Andersen at the end of January.
Birdman has been a huge asset, playing at an energy level matched by few and providing just what the Heat needed out of him.
In 36 games, he's averaging 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, which ranks second on Miami behind only Udonis Haslem. Also, his 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes ranks first on the team among rotation members.
It's not as if Birdman has turned the Heat into a great rebounding team, as they still rank last in rebounds per game. However, he is able to alleviate the problem at times, as coach Erik Spoelstra now has someone else besides Haslem that he can grab off the bench to help when Miami is getting beat up on the glass.
It's not a coincidence that the Heat's 27-game winning streak started shortly after Birdman's arrival.
Andersen's ability on the boards and on defense makes Miami a more dangerous team.
LeBron's Game-Winner Against the Orlando Magic on March 6
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For quite some time, many had believed that LeBron was incapable of hitting a game-winning shot.
LeBron silenced those critics when he converted a go-ahead layup with 3.2 seconds left in a March matchup against the Orlando Magic. It was James' first time in a Heat uniform hitting a game-winner in the final five seconds.
While this was just a regular-season game against the lowly Magic, there was some pressure on James here. The Heat were riding a 15-game winning streak at the time. Plus, anytime James has the ball late, there's intense pressure from the outside.
Watching James celebrate after the game, it was clear that getting the game-winning-shot monkey off his back was a big deal.
Not too long after this game, James knocked down a game-winning shot against the Boston Celtics with 10 seconds remaining.
His layup against the Magic has surely given James some more late-game confidence, which is never a bad thing.
Heat Beat Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks in March
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Entering March, the Heat had yet to beat the New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers, which are the two teams right behind Miami in the East standings.
Both teams were 2-0 when facing the Heat this season.
The Heat were able to exact their revenge in March, though.
On March 3, after falling behind big against the Knicks early, Miami outscored the Knicks by 20 in the second half on its way to a 99-93 win.
A week later, the Heat met up with the Pacers and beat Indiana up from start to finish. LeBron scored just 13 points, yet Miami was able to win comfortably by a final score of 105-91.
These were important wins for the Heat, propelling the Heat to continue its winning streak. They also give Miami even more confidence going into a potential playoff series against either of these teams rather than entering it fearful that New York and/or Indiana has its number.
LeBron and Wade-Less Heat Take Down the San Antonio Spurs to Close out March
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The Heat's final game of March that saw them face the San Antonio Spurs was important for a variety of reasons. The most important reason, though, was the playoff seeding implications.
If Miami won, it would be three games ahead of the Spurs in the race for the top overall seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Since this win would also represent the Heat's second win over the Spurs in as many tries this season, it would give Miami a tiebreaker on San Antonio.
What this all means is that Miami entered this game with the potential to basically lock down the top seed, barring a late-season collapse.
Still, the Heat, wanting to be safe with their players' health and maybe also wanting to get back at Gregg Popovich, sat James, Wade and Mario Chalmers for the game.
But behind Chris Bosh, the Heat amazingly still won this game.
On top of the seeding implications, this game also demonstrated that Miami could beat the Spurs in San Antonio, where they are very difficult to topple (34-5 at home), without its best players.
This win is the definition of a confidence booster. Miami will go to the playoffs as the heavy favorite to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy come June.