Re-Energized For The Main Thing

Miami HEAT

Written By: Azam Masood

It’s hard to believe but it’s been less than a year since the Miami HEAT faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals. Within that whirlwind year the HEAT experienced the heartache of falling within two games of the championship, underwent an entire free agency and draft period in November, and, not long after, participated in a truncated NBA season that oftentimes felt like a sprint more than a marathon. All of this culminated in a first-round defeat at the hands of the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks, a foe Miami had conquered just nine months prior. With that early exit came something akin to a more traditional NBA offseason.

“The offseason felt long, like we were able to get away,” remarked HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra.

With ample time to recover and re-assess, the HEAT are bringing back the core of the roster that conquered the Eastern Conference in 2020 while buttressing the group with championship-laden veterans. Joining the nucleus of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro are 2019 NBA champion Kyle Lowry, 2020 NBA champion Markieff Morris, and 2021 NBA champion P.J. Tucker.

In Lowry, the HEAT are getting a six-time NBA All-Star known for his physicality, floor-general smarts, and ability to stretch the floor and frighten opposing defenses with a quick-trigger three-point shot that is essential in today’s modern game. Lowry held a streak of seven consecutive playoff appearances that was only snapped this year when his Toronto Raptors (temporarily relocated to Tampa, FL as a result of COVID-19 regulations impacting the U.S. and Canada) failed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2013 and is excited to elevate his new club and return to the playoffs, where he once helped lead his Raptors to the championship in 2019.

“Kyle is somebody we’ve had great respect for. He’s a great winner. He knows how to impact winning,” said coach Spoelstra. “He’s a decorated player. All of it is earned. When you weave through all of that, the All-NBAs, All-Stars, it boils down to him finding a way to impact winning. He can really control a game from a classic point guard position. His mind for the game is as high as anybody in the league. He also has a unique way to be able to play off the ball.”

“Defensively, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s smart… he knows how to make key plays in big moments.”

With a propensity for getting downhill and getting himself and his athletic wingmen easy baskets at the rim, Lowry is certain to juice up a Miami offense that previously played at a more deliberate pace fitting the style of the surgical Jimmy Butler, who would dissect mismatches like he held a PhD in biology. Lowry will be more akin to a chemist in the HEAT offense, catalyzing opportunities for the elements surrounding him.

“I love that aspect of his game,” said coach Spoelstra. “When you look at his impact, there’s so many different categories where he impacts winning, and that’s one of them, getting easy baskets and generating a pace where guys will run and know that they will get the ball… If you can get some key easy ones during key moments of the game, that can be the difference [between] winning and losing and that can take your offense from one level to an entirely different tier.

“His pace is one of things I dreaded the most competing against him because of those unpredictable, unscripted moments that you can’t really scheme against, and his level of IQ and skill in those moments is as good as anybody in the league.”

For the HEAT to be able to dictate tempo as they see fit, they will need to ensure their defense can get stops at the elite rate the organization has long become accustomed to. To do so, the HEAT brought P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris to help anchor the power rotation and offer the defensive flexibility necessary to ensure Miami can smother opposing teams and make things uncomfortable for any opponent who dare try to get to the rim, the hallowed space every NBA defender holds sacred.

“The way [P.J.] competes and puts himself out there just screams Miami HEAT culture,” said coach Spoelstra. “He’s fierce, he’s tough, he’s edgy. Doesn’t give you an inch when competing against him. He’s been one of the best corner space three-point shooters in this league.

With Morris, Spoelstra was quick to note that the 32-year-old forward played impactful, winning basketball against the HEAT in the 2020 Finals.

“I respect how he’s played a lot of different roles for a lot of different programs and has found a way to make an impact in those different roles. Sometimes to be featured, sometimes to not be featured. Sometimes to come off the bench and make an impact. When we competed against him in the [2020] Finals, he played his best basketball of the entire year. That stuff matters.”

Jimmy Butler and newly minted gold medalist Bam Adebayo are thrilled to get to work with their new teammates. As mainstays and franchise cornerstones they hope to establish a symbiosis where offensive responsibilities and defensive assignments can be shared and split to limit the burden on any one player.

“Kyle is a damn near genius knowing how to get players the ball,” exclaimed Butler, a pearl-white headband supporting his freshly braided hair. “He takes pressure off me and Bam. He facilitates, can finish, gets to the line. He gives Bam the room to just go and be who you are and just go and not worry about too much else.”

On helping Lowry, Bam remarked, “I set great screens. That’s a great thing for Kyle. Gets him open, gets downhill. He really likes that pocket three. Every once in a while, he doesn’t have to be the point guard all the time. Instead of being a point guard, he can score.”

“You need those glue guys who know how to win,” added Butler. “We added three. Each one of those guys beat me in the playoffs the last three years, which was pretty incredible.”

To circle back to the chemistry analogy, when one wishes to transform one structure to another, an input of energy is necessary. This can arise internally from the molecules themselves – think Bam upping his scoring average each of his first four seasons and explicitly expressing a desire to shoot more this year – or this energy can come externally – think Kyle manufacturing baskets by virtue of his open court aggression or P.J. stonewalling an opposing big and letting Bam get the rebound. With both inputs of energy present, you have Bam becoming the most actualized version of himself yet, the unparalleled point center, and a team armed with the scars of a chaotic few seasons ready to challenge the East once more.

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