Barely 20 months removed from going to the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat have become a contradictory oddity.
Good enough to have two All Stars. Not stellar enough to do more than contend for a Playoff spot. Sufficiently consistent to challenge the Atlanta Hawks for the lead in the Southeast Division. But so uneven that the Heat rank 2nd in points allowed at just 95.8 points per night but a woeful 28th in offense at 96 per.
In short, a mercurial bunch.
Yet although Miami will take heart from ending a brutal road stretch on Friday at the Charlotte Hornets, their pre and post-All Star schedule has not dealt a promising hand. Only two of their last 15 games have come at home, an 8-7 stretch that has gathered some momentum with five wins from their last six.
But starting with a visit from the LA Clippers on Sunday, Miami welcomes San Antonio, Golden State, Washington and Indiana with a quick hop to Atlanta in between.
Defence is all that the Heat have to offer. They are 14-1 when holding opponents to under 90.0 points and the return of Hassan Whiteside is a major obstacle with the young centre logging 12.3 points and 10 rebounds over his last ten appearances. While Luol Deng has been resuscitated by putting up 16.3 points over his last four.
The Hornets are coming off a 106-97 win over Cleveland and pummeled the Heat 99-81 when the teams met in December with Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic held to a combined 23 points.
But coach Erik Spoelstra is trying to push the pace more, which should knock up his players' scoring output, suggesting it’s worth a punt at over 198.5 total points and a shot on South Florida’s finest in Charlotte at +3.5 .
The Clippers should be a tougher ask, however, even without Blake Griffin and a team learning to grind a little more. That’s a good look for under a points total of 194.5 but the next few weeks for Miami should see more of the same: ups and downs, as their revised attack embeds itself as we learn if Heat 2.0 will catch fire or become a damp squib.
Best bet: Go over 198.5 total points in Charlotte-Miami.