The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The season will return on July 30 and NBA.com‘s writers are taking an updated look at each of the league’s 30 teams.
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Record: 41-24, No. 4 in Eastern Conference
Season summary: Arguably the most surprising team in the entire league, the Heat came out of nowhere to crash the Eastern Conference playoff race on the strength of All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler and a motley crew that personifies the Heat culture. Bam Adebayo earned his first All-Star nod while rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro made huge contributions. And Duncan Robinson’s impact as a shooter and floor-spacer in coach Erik Spoelstra’s offense opened up all sorts of possibilities for the Heat, who also got a nice energy boost from AT&T Slam Dunk champion Derrick Jones Jr. And that doesn’t include the bounce they got when Goran Dragic returned from injury to play a vital role off the bench. When Andre Iguodala was acquired just before the trade deadline, giving him plenty of time to get comfortable before the playoffs were set to begin, the Heat were a totally different monster than the group that showed up for training camp. The Heat’s chemistry and relentlessness, particularly at home, would be strengths in a postseason that appeared to be a wide-open chase with the Bucks, Raptors and Celtics leading the pack.
Breakout player: Take your pick here. Nunn should be in line for All-Rookie honors. Robinson’s one of the best undrafted stories in the league. But it’s hard to argue against Adebayo, whose slow, no-nonsense grind up the food chain endeared him to his coaches, teammates and the entire organization. He was a fan favorite when he was playing backup minutes behind Hassan Whiteside. Once it became clear that the Heat were going in a new direction, Adebayo’s worth was realized. A big, physical power forward capable of playing much bigger than his measurements, he always seems to be in the right place defensively. His offensive arsenal is nowhere close to finished. But it is polished enough to see him average a career-highs in points (16.2), rebounds (10.5) and assists (5.1), while also leading the Heat in field-goal percentage (56.7). Adebayo can play any style needed, as he’s nimble enough to defend out beyond the 3-point line and strong enough to handle himself around the rim.
Statement win: In a season filled with quality wins, none served as a better statement win than the March 2 home upset of the league-leading Bucks. The Heat held reigning Kia MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 13 points as it put Miami up 2-0 in the season series with Milwaukee, sending a clear message that should they see each other again in the postseason. Crowder and Butler scored 18 each and Dragic added 15 as the Heat held the Bucks to a season low in the 105-89 win. They whipped the Bucks at their own game, making 18 of their 37 shots from deep compared to 7-for-34 from the Bucks, and outworking them defensively.
Most exciting game: Down by five twice in the final minutes of regulation against the visiting Sixers on Dec. 28, Butler rallied the Heat past his former team with a near triple-double (25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists) and the go-ahead free throws with 2.3 seconds left in overtime for a wild 117-116 win. Two separate opportunities to win the game in the final second of regulation were squandered. The Heat were still in the early stages of establishing themselves as a legitimate playoff contender, so a win against Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Co. went a long way towards cementing their credibility.
Memorable moments: A surprise overtime win in the second game of the season spoiled the Bucks’ home opener. That it came without Butler in uniform looks even more impressive in hindsight and should have been a warning for the rest of the league that something big was brewing in Miami. Herro didn’t waste time making it clear that he was going to be a factor in the Kia Rookie of the Year chase when he smoked the Hawks, a team that passed on drafting him, for 29 points to make sure Butler walked off the floor a winner in his Heat debut in the fourth game of the season. Robinson set the Heat record for 3-pointers in a quarter (seven) and a half (eight) on his way to a career-high 29 points in blowout win over Cleveland and his college coach John Beilein. Robinson went 9-for-15 from floor that night, all nine of his makes coming from beyond the 3-point line. Nunn led the Heat in scoring 13 times and you could pick any one of those games as a memorable moment. A supremely confident performer on the big stage (he won four state championships in high school playing alongside No. 2 overall Draft pick Jabari Parker), he’s shown absolutely no fear in his assault on the opposition. Jones Jr. got caught in the crosshairs on what should have been a career highlight for him on All-Star Saturday night when he won a controversial Slam Dunk Contest over Magic forward Aaron Gordon. It was a spectacular competition with a finish that didn’t do either man justice. On Feb. 22 the Heat retired Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 jersey at halftime of their thumping of Cleveland in what was an emotional and star-studded affair honoring the most beloved player in franchise history.
Team MVP: Butler’s decision to spur the free agency circus last summer and decide that he wanted to take up Wade’s mantle as the face of the franchise says as much about Butler, who always does things his way, as it does about the Heat. They know the culture that’s been cultivated over the years under Pat Riley doesn’t work with every star player in the league. But for the ones that show up and surrender themselves to the Heat’s process, the fruits of that labor have historically been rewarded with championship rings (as Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and many others can attest). Butler has an opportunity to settle into a place where he gets to be the leader and face of the franchise that he could not be in Chicago, Minnesota or Philadelphia. Ignore his numbers, which are fine, and focus instead on the impact he’s had on the locker room, on the floor and in South Florida. The Heat were searching for an heir to Wade’s throne and found one in another Marquette star who found the perfect fit when he took his talents to South Beach.
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