Spoelstra refuses to get carried away as fiery Heat make unlikely run at playoff spot
Erik Spoelstra calls this Heat team 'an enjoyable group to coach' after overcoming a slow start to get back in playoff contention. AP

THE Miami Heat have overcome a slow start to get in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, but coach Erik Spoelstra is focused on keeping his wards grounded despite their splendid run.

“I think the temptation right now would be to be obsessed about the standings, obsessed about what other teams are doing, obsessed about the result of the playoffs,” said Spoelstra in an interview with Filipino reporters during a Cisco teleconference on Tuesday night.

“Our process has to remain the same. We have to focus on us, continue to try to play our brand of basketball, commit to commit defensively, which requires a lot of effort, energy, and discipline as a basketball team," he added.

The Heat are on a solid run, winning 21 of their last 26 games after going 11-30 at the start of the NBA season. They are in a share of ninth place with the Chicago Bulls (32-35) following Wednesday’s (Manila time) games.

What makes this feat more impressive is that the rebuilding Heat team are getting back in the playoff picture following the end of their championship run in 2012 and 2013 and the departure of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and health issues on Chris Bosh.

“It has been an enjoyable group to coach. We’ve been through a lot this year. The reality is we have a lot of changes in our organization for the last three years. It’s been a transition from the championship teams. We have to deal with a lot of adversity,” said Spoelstra.

[See 'Spo' getting goose bumps as Filipinos honored around NBA on Heritage Week]

Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside have been showing the way for the Heat, with solid contributions from Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, and James Johnson.

“This group has been really well-committed. Even when we were 11-30, I like the progress the team was making. I like the approach and attitude. Nobody was feeling sorry for ourselves and we continued to work at it," said the Filipino-American coach.

“We like the group of players, they enjoy coming to work every single day and we want to give ourselves a chance in the second half of the season,” added Spoelstra.

Spoelstra also considers the experience the Heat are going through this season as a well of lessons for young, amateur teams on how to deal with adversity.

“From a teaching standpoint, I think it’s been great. It’s a great lesson even for young teams, college teams, and high school teams of any sport that if you stick to the process and not just focus on the result, you just have to focus on trying to get better, things can happen for you," he said.

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“It can be incremental, methodical improvements. It doesn’t have to be overnight improvements. There hasn’t been any ‘Aha’ moments for this team. It’s been a slow, incremental improvement and that has been a joy to be a part of,” added Spoelstra.

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