The season is packed with a full 82-game worth of drama and the Miami Heat are officially at the midway point of the season. So it's time to assess where they stand from here.
Here are the midterm grades.
First the bad news: Miami will be huffing and wheezing into the second half of the season after losses to the L.A. Clippers and Denver Nuggets. Both games saw the Heat appearing a step slow and utterly fatigued throughout. With LeBron James tweaking his ankle in the former game, Miami is not nearly as healthy as they want to be. Mike Miller is still trying to work himself back into the lineup and Udonis Haslem is not set to return to the team until at least late March.
But here is the good news, Heat fans: The team has come together through adversity to start the season and have played better as of late. Following a 9-8 start where everyone was counting them out of serious championship contention, the team has regrouped nicely going 21-3 afterward. This came in spite not having their full team intact once during the season so far.
The Heat's 30-11 record matches their best start in franchise history through 41 games and they are both on pace to win 60-plus games. The Heat are only within a game of Boston for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
As the Heat begin the second half of the season, I will grade the players, coach and team president for the work they have put into securing this team's current record.
Joel Anthony: Although he has shown signs of being a key contributor, perhaps it was not the best idea to start Anthony. He simply lacked the size and offensive prowess to attract much defensive attention away from the big three as was typified in a game where he missed four layup attempts underneath the basket against the Suns.
Nevertheless, despite being demoted in favor of the larger, more offensively capable Zydrunas Ilgauskas, he is still one the league's best shot blockers per minutes played as he averages 1.4 per game. C+
Carlos Arroyo: According to the critics, the point guard position is the biggest chink in the Heat's attack. Carlos Arroyo, while not completely quieting that belief, has been fairly steady this season. His assists to turnover ratio is still very good (2.2/0.88), he's shooting 45 percent from three and his stats on the season: 6.7 PPG, 2.2 APG, 0.4 SPG are passable. B
Chris Bosh: Chris Bosh's play is emblematic of the entire Heat team: Very rough start, took a while to find a rhythm and niche, but once he found it, he thrived. After he found his rhythm, he became the Heat's unsung hero posting numbers that were predictably below those in Toronto, but also more efficient overall: 18.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 0.7 BPG.
Critics argue that he needs to operate more in the low post, but I would like to see Bosh's shot-blocking improve. Despite the "soft" label, he has helped anchor the Heat's defense that has them holding opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the paint in the league. B+
Mario Chalmers: Chalmers' season thus far is really a tale of pros and cons. He did suffer an offseason ankle injury, which kept him out for the first few weeks of the season, but since he's been back he's been a bit inconsistent. He has not shot the ball well at all so far (38 percent), and his defense, while showing flashes of greatness, has not been nearly what the Heat were expecting from him, especially with this year being a contract season. C
Erick Dampier: Dampier was brought in to shore up the Heat's somewhat undersized front line. He was expected to bring bulk and be an offensive threat in the paint. His offensive game so far has been utterly dead in the water (he's shooting 41 percent from the field, an astonishingly low figure for a man who gets most of his shot attempts near and around the paint), making me question his overall game shape.
But his defense has been strong at times. Statistically speaking, the Heat's interior defense has improved since his arrival. The Heat hope that his contribution increases as the team nears the playoffs. C+
Udonis Haslem: Prior to his foot injury that required surgery on Nov. 23, Haslem was the team's leader in rebounding and no doubt an important vocal leader on the court.Nevertheless, he hasn't played a game during the Heat's recent surge and questions about chemistry with the team will assuredly rear their heads until he returns. Although I would grade him an "incomplete" until he returns, the team definitely could use his toughness and rebounding skills. I
Eddie House: It was certainly not House's plan to be housed indefinitely at the end of the Heat bench. But with Mike Miller getting more minutes, while Chalmers and James Jones offering steady contributions, there just aren't enough minutes to go around for House.
His so-so shooting thus far this season (40 percent overall, 41 percent from three) doesn't exactly make the case for playing time, nor does his shoddy defense during the team's 9-8 start. One wonders if there could be a trade involving House in the works. C
Juwan Howard: Howard has gotten more playing time as the back-up power forward in Haslem's absence. His numbers (2.3 PPG and 2.3 RPG) won't blow anyone away, but he has provided good enough defense and rebounding to quiet talk about possibly trading him. C+
Zydrunas Ilgauskas: When the season began it was expected that Big Z was going to play limited minutes off the bench. However, with Anthony's defensive and offensive struggles, Z has been placed into the starting lineup and has played well. He's averaging 5.3 PPG and 4.9 RPG while only playing 18 minutes a night. He is still very slow afoot on defense and struggles with quick agile centers (i.e. Dwight Howard), but his size has been a benefit to the Heat. B
LeBron James: Three triple-doubles. 44 against the Trail Blazers. 38 against the Cavaliers in "The Reunion." Love him or hate him, there's no denying that he indeed "brought his talents to South Beach."
He has performed admirably despite the enormous amount of vitriol and hate he's received over the past six months. Many of his staunchest critics expected him to fold under the pressure of playing in the hate-filled road arenas. But he has brought his best nearly every night. A
James Jones: It's too bad I can't give him a grade on his play after 20 games when his shooting was right between the eyes and upwards of 48 percent from three. He assuredly would have gotten a "B" at that point. Unfortunately, Jones has not had the stroke of late and he hasn't scored in double-figures since the New Year's Day win against the Warriors. He's only six for 15 in his last five games. C+
Jamaal Magloire: He's been relegated to the indefinite "inactive list", he is the odd man out in the center rotation. He did get a bit of face time on Christmas Day when Ron Artest barreled into him on the bench while chasing down a loose ball. I
Mike Miller: To Miller's credit, he put in a lot of effort into preparing himself for a sooner-than-expected return to the team. That said, it has been very frustrating watching him struggle to scrape the 10 tons of rust off his game.With an extra shooter/ball handler on the floor, the Heat can play lineups that could seriously impact the way teams defend them. But right now, we will have to wait. His shots are still not going down and he's still looking for his first three point make of the season. C-
Dexter Pittman: Pittman in preseason showed flashes of his enormous potential and clearly worked to lose weight and improve his game. Although he will probably not play for the Heat this season, his excellent numbers in the D-League suggest that he has tremendous upside. With Anthony being the lone Heat center guaranteed beyond this season, Pittman could be a major addition to the team next year. I
Dwyane Wade: Perhaps no player in the league was more consistent as Dwyane Wade was in December. His 27.8 points and 54.3 percent shooting catapulted the Heat from "the most- disappointing team in the league" to "a team to be contend for a title this season." Wade shared NBA Player of the Month honors with James. He is at his best when he's in perpetual attack mode and he was attacking throughout the Heat's surge. A
Erik Spoelstra: If you have players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on your roster, you're going to win games. But how many and what you do to get your team through the rough stretches and endless speculation about your future are what good coaches are made of and Spoelstra has done a fine job.
Granted, some of his substitutions have been questionable at times and he did not make plays that emphasized the Heat's advantages enough in the early going of the season, but there's no doubt he's handled the pressure of winning exceedingly well. A-
Pat Riley: Silence. That's all we've gotten from Pat Riley since he made more summer free agent noise than any team president in recent memory. But perhaps he stayed out of the spotlight knowing that whatever he said, it would be the focus of endless sports blog and ESPN analysis which would not benefit the team.
He's simply let Spoelstra do his thing. For that, Pat deserves a lot of credit. One question that persists though is whether he will make a move prior to the trade deadline to strengthen the Heat's struggling bench. A