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Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "I miss Dwyane [Wade]"

By Alex Butler
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Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "I miss Dwyane [Wade]"
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts to his team's play against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first half of their NBA game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee on January 13. 2017. (EPA/Tannen Maury)

Feb. 2 (UPI) -- With one of his former players criticizing ownership and another criticizing his teammates, Erik Spoelsta's current crew is the hottest team in the NBA.

The Miami Heat [20-30] has won nine games in a row, including a 116-93 victory against the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

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This version of the Heat isn't a "Big 3." It's a young squad led by NBA Player of the Week Dion Waiters. Spoelstra describes Waiters' confidence as "irrational." That's the same way some Heat fans acted when they watched franchise player Dwyane Wade depart this offseason.

Wade left the Heat after winning three NBA titles with the franchise. Wade joined his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, while LeBron James bolted in 2014, to reunite with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Wade was fined for his recent comments regarding the effort of his Bulls teammates. James' criticism of the Cavaliers' front office for having a "top-heavy" team led to a free-agent workout on Wednesday.

Spoelstra served as an assistant coach with the Heat from 1997 to 2007. He was brought on as the team's head coach in 2008. The Heat appeared in four consecutive NBA Finals from 2011 to 2014, winning in 2012 and 2013. Wade and James led those teams under Spoelstra, who was one of the youngest coaches in the NBA at the time. Spoelstra began his Heat career as a video coordinator. When asked about comparing Wade and James' situations to the stability of his franchise, Spoelsta opted to separate the semantics. He spoke with Wade following the Heat's 100-88 win against the Bulls Friday at the United Center.

"Those are two exclusive things," Spoelstra said before Wednesday's game. "I don't think about that at all. But after the game, it was great to catch up with Dwyane. That's the only thing I've thought about from that standpoint."

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"I still cherish those moments, to be able to connect with a friend," Spoelstra said. "...And talked about his family. I was able to see Gabby [Gabriel Union-Wade] as well. That's ok. I miss Dwayne. But that's part of being human. I love being a part of this organization. It has nothing to do with that. This has been an incredible training ground for coaching and learning the NBA business. There is no better place that I could have been in."

Wade and James remain close, recently proven by Wade's backing of James in the heat of his conflict with Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. Barkley barked at James for pulling the Cavaliers' strings regarding bringing in another "playmaker" to an already rich roster. The Cavaliers have the highest payroll in the NBA.

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Wade hasn't backed down from defending his former teammate, recently telling the Chicago Tribune that Barkley should "shut up."

"We all make that mistake, but especially that guy on TV," Wade said of Barkley. "He acting like he just walks on water. And I like the fact that LeBron called him out and told him about himself a little bit. Humble yourself. LeBron is who he is. We all have flaws. But when your flaws are a little bit more, you should shut up."

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After Barkley's first round of comments, James said: "screw Charles Barkley." He also detailed his criminal record.

Wade, 35, is averaging 19 points per game this season, his fewest since his rookie season. He is making $23.2 million this season and has a $23.8 million player option for 2017. The Heat offered Wade $20 million per season before he decided to take his talents back home.

James, 32, is due $30.9 million this season and $33.2 million in 2017. He has a $35.6 million player option in 2018.

The Heat host the Philadelphia 76ers at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

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