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From 11-30 a year ago, Heat continue to ascend from the abyss at midseason

A year ago the Miami Heat also took flight from the Midwest at midseason. It was a miserable, humbling, numbing experience. At 11-30, coming off a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Erik Spoelstra's team was at the abyss.

"If we had an answer," guard Tyler Johnson said at the time, "we wouldn't be in this position."

Flash forward almost exactly one year from that Jan. 13 loss at the Bradley Center and the Heat find themselves with ample answers, at 24-17 and on a six-game winning streak coming off Wednesday's victory over the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

From that 11-30 crater there only has been ascension. Combine last season's 30-11 finish and this season's start and you have a 54-28 full-season record.

Over the past 12 months, the scenario has remained the same: counting on anyone and everyone, ignoring injuries, moving the ball from good shots to better shots, getting gritty on defense when required.

The lightness of Wednesday night's flight was palatable.

"It's great because no one person has too much pressure on him," said forward Josh Richardson, arguably the team's most valuable player over the first 41 games. "It's like every night, somebody else is going to be playing great. So if it's not your night, then there's five other guys who could pick up the slack for you."

Already this season the Heat have gone extended stretches without Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and Rodney McGruder, players who all were projected as starters.

Richardson, Johnson, Bam Adebayo and Wayne Ellington have helped fill the void to support Goran Dragic, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk.

For his part, Spoelstra said little has changed from the message emphasized during last season's 11-30 start.

Other, of course, than the placement in the standings, a jump from the lottery to homecourt in the first round of the playoffs an increasing possibility.

"We've been able to get the result that we wanted, but it's been more about the process, all the steps that lead up to that," he said. "We talk about it all the time -- it's how you do anything is how you do everything. And so your preparation for your film sessions, your shootarounds, your meetings, the practices are the most important thing.

"You develop those behaviors and habits every single day and you build confidence from that and you start to see a change in the result on the court. But nothing is guaranteed."

And that's the thing, even with the back-to-back road success against the Toronto Raptors and Pacers, there now is only a Sunday home pit stop against the Milwaukee Bucks at AmericanAirlines Arena, before a five-game trip that opens Monday against the Chicago Bulls and ends a week later against the Houston Rockets.

During that trip, fan voting for the All-Star Game will be completed, the Heat likely to be shut out in that process. But that also serves as the ongoing motivation: Doubt us if you dare.

"Our team," Whiteside said, "is built in numbers. We don't have a guy that's going to come out and take 25 shots, 30 shots a game or one guy that got really big numbers. We're more of a team that likes to share the ball and get the best shot."

That's not to say there haven't been rough patches along the way: Winslow unable to gain a foothold in the rotation before his knee strain, Waiters uneven before the recurrence of the ankle issue that yet could end his season, Whiteside brooding at times over a decreased role.

But the winning has muted those concerns, changed the energy, with Whiteside the perfect example.

"I love playing with these guys," he said. "These guys play hard. They play amazing and it just fuels energy.

"We came a far way. We also got new people on the team and we know each other a lot better than we did last year. Guys are learning the system. Guys know the system better than they did last year. So I'm pretty happy."

But, like Sisyphus, still making the effort to ascend, amid ongoing external doubts.

"We're going to keep trying to push and we're going to keep pushing the rock," Whiteside said.

iwinderman@sunsentinel.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat or facebook.com/ira.winderman

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