The first six games of the Miami Heat’s 2020-21 season were nothing like fans had recently been accustomed to. In a matter of months, Miami’s journey at the bubble saw them turn three seeding victories into a 12-win postseason run that resulted in a trip to the NBA Finals.
The Heat, who remain under the radar by many despite their improbable run, are deemed to turn heads this season. Satisfaction is nowhere to be found in Miami, and in the eyes of Jimmy Butler, he failed in year one at accomplishing the ultimate goal: a championship. Now, he looks to live up to his word.
But that road to glory hasn’t been total glitz and glamor early on, as a mixture of issues has Miami sitting at 3-3 to start their campaign.
Erik Spoelstra and his crew have been forced to adjust; flipping guys back and forth into the starting lineup, finding ways to find momentum from 3-PT range and getting accustomed to that professional lifestyle following a shortened 72-day break. Miami kicked off the season with Tyler Herro as their official starting point guard, so letting him flow into his role took a game or so. Then came the on-going search for the perfect ‘4’ man, ranging from candidates Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Avery Bradley and Andre Iguodala. So far, they’ve tried six different lineups in as many games.
That, mixed with Butler’s lingering ankle injury that kept him out of a back-to-back series vs. the Milwaukee Bucks broke the rhythm Miami had hoped to start with. “We didn’t do enough things to put ourselves in a position to deserve to win,” Spoelstra said after their 93-83 loss to Dallas Mavericks, a contest that featured an early 0-of-14 shooting from deep and 7-of-33 overall.
Such a blowing defeat was even difficult to watch, as shots simply couldn’t fall as shots were being forced instead of created. That said, Spoelstra didn’t take a loss like that easily and made sure to get the point across heading into Monday’s first of two-game homestand vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Basketball is something that you cannot conquer it,” he said, “You just have to continue to work the things that help you be successful. Competition then gives you different challenges and you just continue to try to get better as the season goes on.”
Things starting to click.
Mind you: we’re six games into a long regular season. Teams will look different and playstyles will change as time goes on.
Still, it seems as if Miami has begun to find its identity and what solutions will help them win basketball games. And as it has been for the past two-seasons, three-point shooting continues to play a monumental factor. The numbers hold truly: the Heat make an average of 15.7 threes in wins and 8.3 in losses. That was recently on display vs. OKC, draining 16-of-34 (47.1%) attempts from that range.
“We were on the same page,” Adebayo said. “We were cohesive on our triggers and we knew where we wanted the ball to go.”
And although this team won’t have to shoot lights out to pull-in victories, the use of such will come in handy down stretch – as it did in the playoffs.
“It’s very important,” Butler said on the use of 3-PT shooting to balance the offense. “To know that you got to score you got to share the ball at the same time. Like I said, we always got enough guys that can score, I think our thing is going to be on the defensive end and just making sure that everybody is getting the right shots.”
Miami’s 118-90 win over Oklahoma City not only demonstrated that a shooting touch goes a long way, but it gave Spoelstra and his staff what starting lineup could work best. Olynyk joined Butler, Herro, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson in the five, and his performance through the roof – 19 on 7-of-9 shooting, eight rebounds.
His energizing 3-PT shooting and patience inside sparked a 20-0 run for the Heat in the third quarter, enough to blow past OKC. Now, Miami could keep the same five for Wednesday’s match-up vs. the Boston Celtics, Olynyk’s former team.
The morale of the story is, Miami showed what their offense looks like when at their best. And for a team that’s allowing 107.7 PPG – seventh amongst NBA teams – there’s undeniably light glowing in their direction.