The Miami Heat are quietly staking their claim for Eastern Conference domination again after a run of 11 wins in their last 12 games. The team had gotten off to a pretty slippery start in a season that, admittedly, should have started a lot later for them given last year’s run to the NBA finals.
Jimmy Butler’s prolonged absence in the early going was hardly handled well but, since he’s been back, the former Marquette star has steadied the ship and helped carry his team back into a respectable playoff spot. Miami was fourth in the East at the time of writing, having come off a commanding 113-98 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and awaiting the second game of a back-to-back, with the Memphis Grizzlies on the cards for a Wednesday-night clash. Fans could look through the nest NBA spreads for the day ahead of every game, with the Heat now looking like a team to throw money on.
Butler scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the victory over Cleveland, also making four assists. While the Heat were able to weather a bit of a storm while big man Bam Adebayo was out with injury, losing Butler proved way more detrimental.
The 31-year-old missed 10 games in January due to COVID-19, plus another four through injury – the Heat lost eight games during that stretch while boasting an unwanted stat. The team had the NBA’s second highest-turnover percentage, which was pretty much expected as Butler has the highest assist-to-turnover ratio among all high-usage players in the league. Apart from the dogged drives to the basket, excellent midrange game, his ability to take contact and make his way to the free-throw line, Butler’s greatness also comes from his poise with the basketball.
The Heat star takes very good care of the ball in possession and is excellent at controlling the flow, picking his moments, and facilitating exactly when he needs to. His first game back saw him record 30 points without hitting a single three or committing a turnover. The 10 games the Heat had to play bereft of his calming presence brought about every negative emotion imaginable, as head coach Erik Spoelstra would admit.
“Look,” he said, “it would be natural to have whatever emotions we felt about it. We’ve had every emotion – frustration, anger, confidence, and then everything in between,” Spoelstra said, per the Miami Herald. “We had some of those close games where we actually did a lot of things, more good things than bad things. But we had some key breakdowns down the stretch and would lose those really tough losses.
“It’s really about what happens after that. Are you making it worse than it is? Or are you learning from it and collectively trying to be better?”
Since his return, the Heat have gone 16-6. However, they could be without him against Memphis as he twisted an ankle during Tuesday night’s win. Andre Iguodala is already a confirmed absentee as he did not travel to Memphis because of a sore hip while Moe Harkless has also remained in Miami due to illness.
Avery Bradley, who has missed 19 games with a calf strain, did not travel either. According to Spoelstra, he hasn’t been able to go through a full practice since.
On a brighter note, the Heat have come to an agreement with the Oklahoma City Thunder that will see Trevor Ariza move to Miami. News of the trade talks between the two teams came from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, who tweeted as much during the Heat’s game with Cleveland on Tuesday. While Ariza has not played for OKC this season, he would be an exciting get for Miami as he remains one of the better perimeter defenders in the league and is also a very dependable scorer from long range.
O’Connor reported that the Thunder were keen on securing a second-round pick in any deal for the veteran but the Heat have sent center Meyers Leonard to OKC along with a 2027 second-round pick.
The Heat are beginning to look like the team that beat a path to the NBA finals last season and should only improve with a player like Ariza on their roster. They will have a whole lot more to contend with in the Eastern Conference given the prowess of the Brooklyn Nets but they will certainly be up for the challenge.
“Everybody’s just becoming more and more comfortable and just focusing on the things that we can control,” Butler says. “I think that the more that we’re out there getting reps – there’s not that much time to practice – the more everybody is comfortable. And we’re just having fun.
“I don’t think there was a bad part to the season, just a couple of mishaps, not having a full roster, not being healthy, all of that good stuff. I’m not going to say it was bad, you just see what you’re made of whenever you hit a little bit of adversity.”