Cup of Joe Presented by Café Bustelo: Fighting Through The Ups & Downs
Things can change fast in this league.
After winning 11 of 12 from Feb. 18 – March 16 to go from the 11th seed in the East to the fourth, the HEAT have now dropped three in a row and sit at number five.
And while Miami has struggled offensively (more on that later), the team has really picked things up on the defensive end thanks to deploying multiple looks, schemes and traps.
In turn, the HEAT are tied with a couple other teams for the second-most clutch games, going 13-12 in those matchups, including Sunday’s overtime loss to the Pacers.
Despite the team’s recent woes, however, Jimmy Butler isn’t too concerned.
“I’m not worried. We’re not worried,” Butler said. “Just play better. Keep playing basketball the right way. Stay together through the L’s, through the W’s, and we’ll be just fine. We’ll be fine.”
He’s right, you know. There are always ebbs and flows during the course of a season, and the most important thing is sticking to your identity.
Who better to enforce that identity and navigate through troubled waters than Jimmy G. Buckets?
The Jimmy Effect
It’s scary to think about where Miami would be without Butler.
Oh wait, we kind of experienced that earlier this season when he was out due to health and safety protocols. Without Butler’s services, the HEAT have gone 4-10 as opposed to 18-11 with him.
Simply put, the 31-year-old has continued to be the fulcrum of Miami’s offense. When he’s not attacking the basket to score for himself, he’s drawing a ton of attention and hitting open guys in the paint or along the perimeter.
“He just garners so much attention attacking the rim and the basket,” Kelly Olynyk said. “It just opens everything for everybody else. So, he’s huge in generating good looks, whether for himself or Bam [Adebayo] or shooters on the outside. He just draws so much attention that something good’s going to happen when he attacks or when he has the ball.”
Butler is ranked among league leaders with 17.8 drives per game, 53.5 percent of which lead to points for himself (from the field or free throw line) and 12.8 percent of which lead to an assist.
What’s more, he scored 27-plus points in a career-best seven-straight games from Feb. 24 – March 16, which was the second-longest streak in franchise history (LeBron James has the longest with eight), and has already notched four triple-doubles, the most he’s had in a single regular season.
And on the defensive end, he’s been his usual disruptive self, gathering deflections and steals left and right. A lot of times, he’s come from behind to help his teammates and catch the ball handler off guard.
“Jimmy’s a very disciplined team defender…when he’s on the weakside, he just has a knack,” Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s those timely plays. It’s super-high IQ and then that cat quickness that he has that you can’t teach that he’s just first to the ball that surprises everybody…they’re unpredictably creative, so it’s not necessarily something…that you can prepare for. It’s just in the moment, his greatness is able to make some of those steals and reads that are uncommon.”
All told, he racked up three-plus steals in four-straight games from March 4 – March 14, which tied a franchise record, and leads the league in steals at 2.0 a game and ranks fifth in the league in deflections at 3.5 per.
Talk about a two-way player.
Ariza Joins The Fray
On Wednesday, the HEAT acquired a guy they’ve admired for a long time.
Yes, that Trevor Ariza who won a championship with the Lakers and is now a 17-year vet.
Throughout his career, the 35-year-old has proven to be a solid “3&D” player for many squads. Last season, he averaged 1.7 steals per 36 minutes and shot 38.6 percent on corner threes.
Oh yeah, he’s also from Miami and has a tenacity about him that screams “perfect fit”.
“I just feel like [the organization] matches my style of person, period,” Ariza said. “I work hard…what you see is what you get. I’m not going to beat around the bush about anything, and I think that’s pretty much what the HEAT have shown me so far.”
After opting out of the Orlando Bubble, Ariza got his first taste of action in over a year on Friday against the Pacers. And in the rematch with Indy on Sunday, he got more run, scored his first points in a HEAT uniform and showed the ability to switch defensively.
Coach Spo knows he’ll be able to ramp up Ariza’s minutes as time goes on.
“He’ll be able to fast track…you can see he has an experience and a savviness to be able to fit in,” Spoelstra said. “He’s played in a lot of systems, and he’s played a lot of winning basketball over the course of his career.”
Not Finding The Range…Yet
Perhaps Ariza can help boost Miami’s shooting in due time.
Yes, the HEAT are ranked second-to-last in three-point shooting percentage (34.3 percent), but it’s important to take a deeper look into the quality of shots they’re getting.
A year ago, Miami garnered 14.7 wide-open treys per game. This season? 16.0.
So, by the numbers, the HEAT are actually getting more open looks from deep. The issue is those shots are just not falling at the same rate. It’s a make or miss league, after all.
“I’ve had teams where we really struggled to generate open looks. And any one of those teams would have loved to have this challenge that we’re working through right now,” Spoelstra said. “We’re generating open looks in our wheelhouse. That’s the harder part. And we’re getting them for the right guys, so it’ll change. You just have to trust it and not get caught up in all the noise.”
Odds & Ends:
-Speaking of noise (the positive kind this time), Adebayo had himself a game on Sunday.
In addition to being everywhere defensively as usual and knocking down three jumpers, he posterized three different guys (yes, three), including Domantas Sabonis.
When asked about the jam over Sabonis, Adebayo simply stated, “It shocked everybody because I don’t usually jump off one leg…[it was a] great play.”
-On a more somber note, Coach Spo spoke out about the recent acts of hatred and violence towards the Asian community. Being Asian-American himself, Spoelstra is even more sensitive to what’s going on.
“I’m glad that the organization made a statement about these acts of hatred and violence against the Asian community,” Spoelstra said. “Look, I’m Asian-American. I’m proud to be Asian-American. And seeing what’s happening with another just outright form of racism and hatred, it really is sickening. It breaks my heart. It’s despicable. I think more people have to be made aware of this. It really is irrelevant who you are or what you are, you have to see that this is wrong. It really is. It’s heartbreaking. It just shows you where we are. There is hatred abundantly still out there, and people feel empowered to attack the Asian community, and I just pray in my heart that this can stop.”
Until next time.