It’s been some lean years for Miami sports fans, but this past weekend saw the city’s teams turn the tide, if just for a few days.
Miami went 6-0 this weekend, and with all the talk of tanking and turmoil, it was great to be a joyous fan again.
It’s hard to choose one contest as the avatar for this momentary revival, so I’ll start with the last game of the weekend, the Miami Heat’s dominant victory over the Houston Rockets.
Heading into Sunday night’s matchup with the perennial Western Conference power, the Heat had garnered some national attention after a 4-1 start. But it wasn’t the highest paid or most well-known players that have led the Heat, it’s been the rookies, the undrafted cast-offs and the forgotten veterans who’ve stepped forward.
With their throttling of the Rockets, Miami finds itself once again part of the national NBA discourse.
On ESPN’s “The Jump” today, WNBA All-Star Chiney Ogwumike said she thinks the Heat are a legitimate contender because “they have good team chemistry.” She went on to say they’re “playing true team basketball” and the team’s “culture for excellence” is “showing on both ends of the floor.”
ESPN Senior NBA writer Kevin Arnovitz echoed much of Ogwumike’s sentiments, and added the Heat have a roster full of players with “something to prove” and that they have a “top defensive coach” and a “top defensive program” that’s “going to produce 50 wins in the East.”
And there are stats to back up this impressive start. The Heat are No. 1 in Net Rating and No. 4 in Defensive Rating. The team is No. 1 in Field Goal percentage (48.0), No. 2 in Blocks per Game (7.0), No. 2 in 3-point percentage (40.1) and No. 3 in Steals per Game (10.0).
This is a well-constructed, unselfish basketball team. Their 38 assists versus Houston is the highest mark for assists in a game thus far this season. And they’ve had five different players lead the team in scoring in six games.
This team works. It works hard, and it works well. If their opponent thinks it can waltz into Miami for an easy W, they’ve got another thing coming.
“I know what these guys are capable of. These guys are built like me. We’re one in the same and so they’re only going to get better and they’re not going to get complacent. This is me. I see myself in every one of these guys around this locker room.” –@JimmyButler https://t.co/tGY0Ttd8Ry
— Greg Leif Sylvander (@GregSylvander) November 4, 2019
The Miami Dolphins would have been the full talk of the town had the Heat not usurped the chatter with their drubbing of Houston.
The Dolphins won their first game of the season yesterday, with their decisive 26-18 victory over the rival New York Jets and former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase.
While some Dolfans will bemoan the loss as potentially counter-productive in the quest for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft, sticking it to Adam Gase must have felt particularly good to some, like DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki.
First year head coach Brian Flores has had this Dolphins team, largely bereft of capable NFL talent, trending in the right direction for weeks. They nearly beat Washington a few weeks ago, and if not for a fluke onside kick return in Buffalo, Miami would have lost on the road to a (now) 6-2 team by just three points.
The team has responded from the decimating blowouts early, and Flores and his coaching staff have found ways to keep them competent and competitive, despite the talent disparity.
Yesterday’s win validated much of that work, not only for the coach but the players as well.
“That’s why we put in the work,” said Flores of the win.
Team owner Stephen Ross was happy as well. “Hopefully, a lot more [wins] to come.”
The Dolphins dominated the Jets, and their so-called offensive genius coach Adam Gase. After spotting New York seven points, Miami went on to outscore the Jets 26-11 the rest of the way.
Even with the win, Miami is still in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick. They have a game later this season versus Cincinnati, which might very well be for that top selection. The Jets and Dolphins face off again in New York in a few weeks. And hopefully, some of those other hapless franchises pick up another win or two along the way.
Dolphins writer Travis Wingfield expressed the sentiment well on his Twitter account:
I know I’ve been a big proponent of the tank, but seeing how many people a victory positively effects in that building was just an awesome experience. This game, this TEAM…. means everything to me and today couldn’t have been better.
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 3, 2019
The Miami Hurricanes entered their contest against the Florida State Seminoles with something to prove. Coming off a comeback win over Pittsburgh last week, the Canes were looking to beat their in-state rival for the third straight year. Rivalry wins have a wonderful way of making everything seem okay (at least for now).
And win they did. The Canes dominated the Noles, harried their quarterbacks throughout, and largely did whatever they wanted on offense. UM quarterback Jarren Williams became the third different starting QB to beat FSU in the last three years. His 313-yard, two touchdown performance on the road was impressive.
Much of the swagger of those bygone UM teams manifested itself at times in this one, and it leaves a little bit of hope for the rest of this season. UM (5-4, 3-3 ACC) still has an outside shot at the division championship, and while that might be farfetched, an 8-4 finish with a bowl win is no longer out of the realm of possibility.
“I think we’re starting to find ourselves,” UM head coach Manny Diaz said after the game.
The Canes have senior day next Saturday against Louisville, then road games against FIU and Duke to wrap up the regular season. One more win makes them bowl-eligible.
While these three wins might be the Miami headliners, they weren’t the only wins for Miami-affiliated athletes.
The Florida Panthers crushed the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday 4-0, and have won three of their last four games. The Panthers are third in the Atlantic division at 7-3-4 with 18 points, and are getting great play from Jonathan Huberdeau. Sergei Bobrovsky notched his first shut-out of the season last Saturday.
Beyond that, the FIU Panthers won as well. FIU defeated Old Dominion on Saturday 24-17, and senior defensive back Olin Cushion III sealed the victory on senior day with an interception. FIU is 5-4 and needs one more win to be bowl-eligible.
And finally, UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal, Miami-born and bred, battered Nate Diaz for three rounds in Madison Square Garden on Saturday night to pick up the TKO-Dr victory. The brash, Cuban-American mixed martial artist continued his accent into the national consciousness with another victory over a famous opponent.
Dolphins won, Canes won, FIU won, FAU won, Heat won, Panthers won, our UFC guy won and we have the best weather in America.
Have a weekend, Miami?
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) November 4, 2019
Monday’s news has been a bit sobering for the Miami sports scene. The Dolphins saw their star undrafted free agent receiver Preston Williams lost for the year due to a knee injury and starting running back Mark Walton suspended by the NFL.
But the University of Miami Hurricanes basketball team received a huge commitment from 5-star recruit Earl Timberlake, and Miami sports radio will welcome back Dan Le Batard to the airwaves next week, so there’s that.