Heat may or may not plant the seed of doubt

MIAMI — In a perfect world for the Miami Heat, the NBA trading deadline would come a week later, allowing them to truly take stock.

Because the first three games for Erik Spoelstra’s team after Thursday’s deadline are against the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

But Thursday at 3 p.m. it is, the final opportunity for a bigger swing than the trade for Terry Rozier.

A case could be made for desperation, with another postseason entry through the play-in round staring the Heat in the face, in light of what looms above with the Celtics, Bucks, Knicks, 76ers, Cavaliers and Pacers (the top six seeds advance directly to the best-of-seven opening round).

Yes, injuries still could change the calculus should Julius Randle’s shoulder or Joel Embiid’s knee sidetrack the Knicks and 76ers, respectively.

But then consider that the Cavaliers successfully withstood the absences of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, as did the Pacers with the absence of Tyrese Haliburton. That’s what good teams do.

So for as much as already has been made about the Heat, and particularly Jimmy Butler, slow playing the regular season, the Heat may wind up slow playing the rest of the regular season, as well, preparing for that all-or-nothing week between the end of the regular season and start of the playoffs.

In the neighborhood that is play-in land, the Heat should be well positioned against the potential likes of the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic (although beware the Banchero).

But wind up with the final ticket to the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and you almost assuredly wind up with the Celtics in the first round. And as daunting as the Bucks might have been as a first-round opponent last season for the Heat, this season’s Celtics are at a whole other level with the additions of Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday.

So middle of the pack it likely will be, the seven-game losing streak seemingly quashing Heat visions of a top-four seed and homecourt in the first round, but possibilities strong enough to summarily dismiss any tank talk (if even possible with this season’s second tier in the Eastern Conference).

That could make this year’s trading deadline for the Heat the same as last year’s deadline considering the similar situations, essentially much ado about nothing.

But it also should make this month similar to last February, when the Heat nonetheless bolstered, albeit through the buyout market.

Yes, new limitations are in place in the collective-bargaining agreement that will preclude a star search on the buyout market. But that doesn’t prevent the type of subtle additions that could make a difference in a playoff (and play-in) run,  similar to what the Heat did last February in adding  Kevin Love and Cody Zeller.

In the power rotation, the Heat need a functional facsimile of what Dewayne Dedmon at one point provided for them. There has to be something bigger in reserve in the power rotation, if only to take fouls against opposing bigger big men.

And on the wing, a defensive pest to at least try to contain and perhaps even slow down opposing speed guards.

But what you can’t do is spend the first half of the season noting the 25 lineups, the 16 different starters, the extended absences of core pieces, the shifting landscape with Rozier, and then go ahead and blow it up without an extended read.

That is what these final two months of the season should be, an extended runway to the postseason for the players, an extended workshop in the laboratory for Spoelstra.

There are enough pieces in place to challenge anyone in the East this side of Boston (Super Bowl Sunday against the Celtics might not be a national showcase in the Heat’s best interest).

And, frankly, it also means enough time to see if it doesn’t work, as was the case with the 2021 playoff crash-and-burn in being swept out in the first round by the Bucks.

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