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 MIAMI (AP) -There have already been a few moments where Miami rookie Michael Beasley has looked at the standings to figure out playoff scenarios.
This time last year, no Heat player was doing that.
So goal No. 1 for this season - improving significantly over last season's 15-67 debacle - has long been complete, and not just because Miami finished the first half of the schedule with a 22-19 record, either.
Dwyane Wade is healthy and playing like an MVP, the Heat are thrilled with young players Beasley, Mario Chalmers and Daequan Cook, and coaches like Boston's Doc Rivers are pointing to Erik Spoelstra as a sure-fire candidate for coach of the year honors.
But as the season's second half begins Saturday night when the Southeast Division-leading Orlando Magic - who've beaten their Sunshine State rivals 10 straight times - visit Miami, the Heat say there's still much room for improvement.
etting some games under their belt and experience,'' Spoelstra said. ``Now it's going to get turned up a notch for the second half of the season and teams will be playing for playoff spots. Intensity will go up.''
For his part, Beasley says he and the rest of Miami's young guys are ready for that.
``I knew it was going to be hard,'' Beasley said. ``But I had no doubt in my mind that we could do what we've been doing. Me being me, I wanted to win 70, 80 games. But that's just me. I knew it'd be a challenge for us after what went on last year, but I'm not at all surprised by where we are.''
The second-half drama is already starting in some respects.
Miami's roster will likely be tinkered with at some point before next month's trade deadline. Alonzo Mourning won't be coming back after all; the seven-time All-Star center retired Thursday, adding to speculation that the Heat are taking a hard look at acquiring center Jermaine O'Neal from Toronto in exchange for forward Shawn Marion and little-used guard Marcus Banks.
``Our team can get better. It only can get better,'' said Wade, whose 28.8-point scoring average is tops in the NBA. ``That's not my decision, though. My job is just go out there and play. And right now, my teammates, I'm enjoying them, the most enjoyment I've had in a while with playing with a group of guys. I enjoy this group of guys out here.''
``B-minus'' grade for the first half of the season.
He thinks that can become an ``A'' by mid-April, when the playoffs get underway.
``We've got a tough road ahead of us,'' Wade said. ``I do see potential on this team, especially on the defensive end, that we can put ourselves and keep ourselves in any game, and that's a plus.''
Spoelstra talks about defense so much that it almost has become a cliche - yes, his philosophy perfectly mirrors his mentor, Hall of Famer Pat Riley, when it comes to emphasizing that end of the floor.
But the numbers back up all his words.
When Miami held teams to 96 points or less in the first half of the year, it was 16-5.
When the Heat allowed 97 points or more, they were 6-14, and 4-11 when teams went over the 100-point mark.
``What I'm encouraged by is our young players now are starting to recognize situations and starting to see teams have similar alignments and movements, just different calls,'' Spoelstra said. ``And as they start to get even a better knowledge of it, that's when you can start to tweak it and make adjustments specific for a particular team. That's usually left for the veteran teams.''
The second-half schedule won't be easy, though.
Miami still has eight games remaining with Boston, Orlando and Cleveland - the clear-cut three elite teams in the Eastern Conference. Of the final 41 games, 24 are against teams that seem like they're headed to the playoffs.
``For a young team, I think we're doing pretty good,'' Beasley said. ``And we can get better.''
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