If the Heat are to gain ground in the Eastern Conference standings after their slow start to the season, they will undoubtedly have to overcome one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NBA.
Beginning with the game against the sweltering Brooklyn Nets this Sunday (6 p.m.), halfway through the regular season schedule, the Miami team will play 11 of its next 15 encounters against clubs with winning records.
That stretch includes back-to-back games against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (25-14) on Thursday and Saturday in Miami, the first meetings between the franchises this season.
The Heat has the second hardest remaining schedule based on the winning percentage of the remaining teams. The other club with a more challenging program is the Los Angeles Clippers.
Guard Victor Oladipo was clear when asked about the Heat’s pressure to move up the standings.
“I think things take time,” Oladipo said.
“I know there are a lot of guys coming back from last year, but this is a new team with a new dynamic. We still have guys who haven’t even entered the field yet. So this is a process and we have to trust it to move forward. We have to stick together and realize that this is not how you start, but how you end.”
While this second half of the schedule will be tougher, his up-and-down play in the first half of the season showed up on one of the easier schedules in the league.
Miami has played the second most affordable schedule based on their opponents’ combined winning percentage and excluding the home/away factor.
“He is very competitive,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
“In fact, I counted 17 teams that are good where we are and with a difference of two or three defeats. So you can’t feel sorry for where you think you should be in the table and we just have to deal with reality and accept the challenge that comes our way.
Of course, with so many teams dealing with injuries, the strength of those rankings will depend on who is available to play each night.
“We are not happy where we are, but there is a lot of equality in the league.”
THE HEAT GUARANTEE HIGHMITH
The Heat guaranteed the remaining $1.1 million on Haywood Highsmith’s partially guaranteed contract by keeping him on payroll after Saturday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Highsmith will receive his full $1.8 million salary this season.
His contract also includes a non-guaranteed salary of $1.9 million for next season.
With Highsmith’s full salary guaranteed, Miami is about $200,000 away from crossing the luxury tax threshold.
That doesn’t give Miami enough room to sign another player for the rest of the season.
At 26, Highsmith averages 4.3 points on 38.3 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from 3-point range, with 3.7 rebounds and one steal per game in 27 appearances (five starts).
He left Wheeling University in 2018.
Highsmith was the only player on Heat’s roster not fully guaranteed.
The injury report for Sunday’s game against the Nets lists 10 players. Nikola Jovic (back), Duncan Robinson (finger surgery) and Omer Yurtseven (ankle surgery) will not play.
Caleb Martin (quad tribe) is questionable.
Bam Adebayo (bruised thigh), Jamal Cain (G League), Udonis Haslem (Achilles tendinitis) and Tyler Herro (back cramps) are listed as questionable.
Dewayne Dedmon (plantar fasciitis) and Gabe Vincent (knee) are likely.