In an NBA world with a preseason running from October to January, the Miami Heat would receive championship contender talk.
But for treating the first half of the season like a preseason to get healthy in body and play, Miami is only a second-half phenomenon that creeped into playoff position over two months.
With 10 games to go in the season, the Heat could become the first NBA franchise to reach the playoffs after posting an 11-30 midpoint record. Doing a 180-degree turn offensively with hot-shooting, attacking guards Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, Miami had a season-best 13-game winning streak and won 23 of 28 games before losing two opportunities to reach .500 in the last week.
Miami enters a Boston-Detroit-New York trip at 35-37 after passing Chicago, Detroit and Charlotte for eighth place, a spot they trailed by 10 games when they had the NBA's second-worst record in January.
The Heat entered the season with Chris Bosh already ruled out and since has lost Justise Winslow and Josh McRoberts to injuries. Coach Erik Spoelstra found his midseason touch again, drawing even more credit for avoiding the potential pitfalls of a rotation stocked with players on short-term deals.
Heat center Hassan Whiteside leads the NBA in rebounding and ranks third in blocked shots for an essential balance to the dominant shooting that stretches from Dragic and Waiters to key bench players Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and Wayne Ellington.
Rather than talking about tanking for Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, Heat fans are talking about being the rare eighth seed that a top seed does not want to see. That could be especially true for LeBron James, whose East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers are 5-19 against the Heat since he left Miami in 2010. The Heat won the teams' last meeting in Cleveland, with James and Kyrie Irving in the lineup.
Big names, big games
This NBA season has posted the fourth-most 40-point games in league history and broke a record for players with 50-point games in a season Friday night when Suns guard Devin Booker became the season's ninth player to do so.
Booker went far beyond it, becoming the sixth player in NBA history to score 70.
Booker posted the first 70-point game since Kobe Bryant's 81-point game of 2006 and did it with only four three-pointers because he made 24 free throws in a 130-120 loss at Boston. He scored 51 in the second half, including a 28-point fourth quarter in which the Suns called timeouts and committed fouls despite being down handily.
Booker's franchise scoring record was the NBA's second 50-point game since Jan. 27. Russell Westbrook scored 58 on March 7, making him the only player besides Houston's James Harden to score 50 twice this season.
Statistically, the best deep-shooting Curry in the NBA is not named Stephen. Seth Curry, Stephen's younger brother, is outshooting his former MVP brother with a 42% clip from three-point range this season for Dallas.
After pit stops in Memphis, Cleveland, Phoenix, Sacramento and the D-League, 26-year-old Seth Curry had been getting an extended look as Dallas' starting guard before moving to starting point guard on Thursday.
Since the All-Star break, Seth Curry is averaging nearly 17 points a game while shooting better than 51% from the field.
Barkley v. Bayless
At the close of a 42-minute segment Thursday on "The Dan Patrick Show," TNT analyst Charles Barkley used the opportunity to praise Patrick and offer an idea. "You know what we should do for ratings?" Barkley asked. "If I get a disease and I'm gonna die, how about you get Skip Bayless in here and I kill him live on national television?
"I just want to get [FS1 show host] Skip Bayless in a room one time and just beat him like a dog."
Barkley reiterated that it would be good if he knew he had a terminal illness.
"Not if I'm gonna live" Barkley said. "I don't want to go to prison. Because as [Rick] Mahorn say, they would love you in prison."
Et tu, Kendrick Lamar?
Add multiple Grammy-winning artist Kendrick Lamar to the vast faction who turned on Kevin Durant for last year's departure from Oklahoma City to Golden State.
His new song, "The Heart Part 4," was released Thursday with a Durant-Westbrook reference.
"You jumped sides on me, now you 'bout to meet Westbrook," Lamar rapped. "Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you. Just know the next game played, I might slap the [expletive] out you. Technical foul, I'm flagrant, I'm foul. They throwin' me out, you throw in the towel."