It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
If you’ve been following along, we’ve covered some monumental games and series in HEAT history throughout the league’s hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But now, we finally have something new to look forward to.
At long last, the NBA and NBPA announced that they’ve finalized their 22-team plan to restart the 2019-20 season on July 30 at Walt Disney World Resort.
When the season was suspended on the night of March 11, the HEAT were wrapping up their game with the Hornets and found themselves at 41-24 and fourth in the East. That matchup against Charlotte was a rare home loss, as Miami has gone an incredible 27-5 at home (third best in the league). Of course, home-court advantage is no longer a factor with everyone playing at a neutral site from here on out.
Before the standstill, the HEAT recorded 30 or more assists 17 times (the most in franchise history), ranked seventh in offensive efficiency (112.2) and were tied for first in true shooting percentage (58.7 percent).
And while the team’s defense was right around league average in terms of efficiency, there were moments where the HEAT got to their identity. Remember Miami’s blowout of Houston, in which the team set franchise records with 46-first quarter points and a plus-32 differential after one? How about when the HEAT trounced the Bucks in Miami and held them to a season-low 89 points on just 40.7 percent shooting?
Nobody has helped Miami get to that identity more than Jimmy Butler.
One quick look at the raw stats could tell you that Butler is the team’s unequivocal leader (he paces the HEAT in points, assists and steals), but more importantly he’s the living embodiment of HEAT culture.
From hard-nosed defense, countless deflections and pick-sixes to strong attacks to the basket for feeds or finishes, Butler simply does it all.
One of the 30-year-old’s best stretches came in early December when he recorded three triple-doubles in the span of eight days (five games) against the Raptors, Wizards and Hawks, respectively.
As you can see, he also got the job done down the stretch.
The HEAT handed Toronto its first home loss of the season in that game on Dec. 3 and did the same to Philadelphia a few weeks later on Dec. 18. In all, Miami has gone 28-10 against the East, 14-10 against teams with a .500 record or better and a league-best 8-1 in overtime.
Among those OT games, that aforementioned clash with the Hawks on Dec. 10 was perhaps the HEAT’s craziest, as Butler grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds en route to his triple dub, Bam Adebayo tallied his first career triple-double (including a career-high 30 points and 11 dimes), Duncan Robinson tied a franchise record with 10 treys, and Kendrick Nunn came up one point shy of the HEAT rookie record with a career-high 36 points.
While we’re on the topic of remarkable performances and triple-doubles, let’s get into how Adebayo fared before the hiatus.
To kick things off, the 22-year-old hit the ground running with a clutch chasedown block on Eric Bledsoe in the first road game of the season and never looked back. By all measures, Adebayo has taken that next step to becoming a star and team leader. For his efforts, he made his first All-Star team.
Not only has he continued to wreak havoc defensively with traps and stout man defense, but he’s also come through with pinpoint passes to cutters, effective dribble handoffs to shooters along the perimeter and nifty finishes around the rim. As such, he has racked up three triple-doubles.
Thanks to him becoming significantly more efficient on drives to the bucket as the season has progressed, he’s shooting 71.9 percent in the restricted area (up from 68.8 percent in 2018-19).
And even though his hustle stats have been off the charts, his play in the clutch (five-point game in the last five minutes) has been even more impressive. In those situations, he ranks second on the HEAT in total points (67) and first in field goal percentage (58.5 percent).
While the offense runs through Adebayo often, and he’s balled out during crunch time, we can't forget about Goran Dragić. Despite coming off the bench for all but one game, the Dragon actually leads Miami with 258 total points in the fourth quarter and overtime period combined.
He ranks fourth in scoring (16.1) and second in assists per game (5.1) among players who have come off the bench in at least 50 games. In particular, he’s shown great chemistry with rookie sensation Tyler Herro.
Herro, who has his own treasure trove of big-time buckets and moments,…
…is shooting 52.2 percent in the clutch, 39.1 percent from deep (first among all rookies who have taken at least 250 threes) and set HEAT rookie records for points off the bench (29) and 3-pointers in a game (seven).
As you’d imagine, both Dragić and Herro have won a lot of games for the HEAT due to their shooting prowess, but they pale in comparison to Robinson. (Then again, almost anybody would.)
After forging a unique path to get to the league, the 26-year-old Robinson has taken full advantage of his opportunity.
In addition to tying the franchise record for threes in a game, he also set team records for triples in a quarter (seven), half (eight) and season (228 at the time, now 243). On the same night he passed Wayne Ellington to become Miami’s single-season leader, he also passed Damon Jones for most threes in a season by an undrafted player and Kyle Korver for most threes by any player in either of their first two seasons.
Since we keep talking about history, let’s bring Nunn into the fold, shall we?
The 24-year-old rookie out of Chicago put the league on notice from the jump due to his ability to score from all three levels.
In fact, Nunn scored the most points by an undrafted player through their first five games in NBA history, hit the most threes in a season by a HEAT rookie, became the fastest HEAT rookie to score 500 points and has won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Award three times (second-most in HEAT history and most ever by an undrafted player).
Oh yeah, these dunks against the Pelicans and Lakers were pretty cool too:
All told, Nunn ranks third among all rookies in scoring (15.6) and fourth in assists per contest (3.4).
Herro is up there in scoring, too, but right ankle soreness hindered his progress and forced him to miss 15 of the HEAT’s last 16 games. Meyers Leonard, who spaced the floor extremely well and set great screens, also went down with a left ankle sprain and hasn’t played in Miami’s last 16 contests.
Before that point, Derrick Jones Jr. was out for most of November with groin and hip injuries, but bounced back and showed crazy versatility as a defender and jammed on people with relative ease once again.
With Herro and Leonard hurt late, reinforcements arrived in the form of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill at the trade deadline. And although each guy had their moments (especially Crowder in the early going), they were still working their way into the rotation once the season got put on pause.
If the current standings stay the same after the HEAT’s eight “seeding games” (as selected from Miami’s remaining regular-season contests versus teams that are returning), then they would face the Pacers in the playoffs. However, the Sixers are right there with Indiana, so things could change quickly.
Regardless of who Miami matches up against, the fact that the season will continue, and Miami’s newer and healthier guys will be able to reacclimate during training camp, should have everyone excited for what’s to come.
Time will tell what ends up transpiring, but one thing is for sure.
It’s time to take care of some unfinished business.