It’s been a tumultuous, up-and-down season for the Miami Heat. The team hasn’t been fully healthy all year. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, and Tyler Herro have missed 82 games combined.
And despite it all, the Heat are the East’s top seed in maybe the toughest Eastern Conference in a decade.
So why does it feel like the Heat are underdogs, even as the No. 1 seed? Better yet, why does it feel like that’s exactly how Miami likes it?
Is there value betting on Heat futures? What’s the best way to play this team? Let’s check out the case for and against the Miami Heat.
Make sure to check out the case for the other top teams around the NBA as we continue to add them:
Note: All stats below through Wednesday, April 6.
Miami’s Stars are Proven, Battle-Tested, and Healthy
The Heat haven’t been healthy, but they’ve held up admirably considering how many games they’ve lost from the four most important players:
- Butler: 24 games missed — Heat went 15-9
- Adebayo: 25 games missed — Heat went 17-8
- Lowry: 18 games missed — Heat went 12-6
- Herro: 15 games missed — Heat went 9-6
It’s remarkable, really.
Miami’s four All-Star level players missed 82 games combined — the equivalent of losing an All-Star for the entire season — but had a winning record in each scenario above, even missing each guy. They’re 24-10 with Butler, Adebayo, and Lowry, a 58-win pace. Impressive, but it might be even more impressive that they’re also 28-18 when missing one of those three, a 50-win pace all its own.
Remember that recent four-game losing streak, near on-court altercation, and rumblings about Butler being discontent? The Heat are 5-0 since that incident with 93-point combined margin of victory, including road wins in Boston, Chicago, and Toronto.
The Heat are just fine, and the upside of all that missed injury time this season is that Miami’s players are actually rested and healthy now. An offense that’s been shaky and unreliable at times appears to be coming together at just the right time.
Butler has had terrific advanced metrics all year. He’s actually faded and taken on a smaller role down the stretch after his injury, but the team numbers are still strong with him out there. And his smaller role may be what’s unlocking those other three stars around him.
It took Lowry awhile to find his fit, but he’s playing his best ball of the season since the break. His shooting splits have leapt from 41/33/85 through January to 49/47/87 since, and his Offensive Rating has skyrocketed from 113 to 128. Adebayo’s offense has also returned after a first-half downswing.
He has a 5.4 Box Plus-Minus since the break, back to an All-Star level in a more optimized role, and he’s getting better touches and scoring more efficiently. Herro’s efficiency is also soaring at 61% True Shooting since the break versus 54% before. In a slightly smaller role, he’s been more valuable to the offense.
It’s weird. Butler came out guns blazing to start the season. He had a 11.2 Box Plus/Minus in his first 14 games, a number that would’ve ranked second over the whole season and put him on every MVP ballot.
As the season has gone on, though, the Heat are getting more from Lowry, Adebayo, and Herro and this has become a four-headed team. Butler’s BPM has dropped to 3.1 since the break, but the Heat offense is more egalitarian and peaking at the right time at 115.0 Offensive Rating after the break.
The Heat play outstanding defense and are finally unlocking the offense. They’re coached as well as anyone under Erik Spoelstra, and they’re finally healthy. Three of the players in this core made the Finals together two seasons ago, and the fourth won the title the previous year. The Heat are ready.
The Case Against the Heat
Miami’s upside is clear, but the same problems that plagued the Heat remain concerns heading into the playoffs.
There will always be health questions. Butler and Lowry are older and have a ton of miles on those legs. Maybe the injury absences kept them a bit fresher, but two healthy playoff months is still asking a lot.
Adebayo is younger, but this year’s injuries didn’t just disappear. P.J. Tucker’s health is always a concern at his age. These warriors will play through anything, but it’s asking a lot for a long, grueling, two-month run they never got all season.
The questions about the offense aren’t going anywhere. It’s true that Miami’s offense has improved over the second half, but that’s also been true for a majority of teams as defensive effort has fallen off and some teams have begun to tank.
Miami had a lower Offensive Rating early, but it actually ranked higher relative to the rest of the league. Even the improved offense is right about at league average since the break.
Can the Heat grind out enough points in the half-court malaise of the playoffs? Miami forces the third most turnovers and racks up easy transition points, but the numbers get grimmer without those buckets. Miami leads the league in 3-point percentage, but they rely on guys like Duncan Robinson and Herro, who could get hunted defensively and played off the court at times.
The Heat have also gotten big boosts from players like Caleb Martin, Max Strus, and Gabe Vincent. Two of those three are over 40% on 3s for the year, and Miami’s bench has been strong all year. But bench units are minimized in the playoffs, and these guys are untested at this highest level.
It’s a worry that Miami’s more balanced team might not have the best player in any playoff series. They certainly wouldn’t against the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, or Brooklyn Nets. Even possible first-round opponent Atlanta may have the best player on the court in Trae Young. How far can defense and teamwork take you?
The lineup combinations are a real concern. Butler has a +6.6 Net Rating in 1898 minutes, but that barely budges to +6.7 with Adebayo added in, per Pivot Analysis, and it’s a drop from Adebayo’s season-long +8.5 Net Rating.
With all three of Butler, Adebayo, and Lowry, that improves a little to +8.8, but add Herro to the mix too and suddenly the Heat have a -3.5 Net Rating with an ugly 101.6 Offensive Rating. It’s a tiny sample size at 110 minutes, but it’s worrying that the four Heat stars can’t really play together — and that adding Butler to these combos isn’t elevating the team.
That’s reared its head the most in the clutch. Per Pivot Analysis, the Heat have played 250 clutch possessions in 126 minutes this season. They’re a disastrous -18.4 Net Rating in those minutes with an awful 100.3 Offensive Rating. The Heat are the anti-Suns in the clutch. They’re awful.
And least you blame the injuries, Adebayo has played almost all of those clutch minutes. Butler’s played 89 of them — and the Heat have a ghastly -23.0 Net Rating in those clutch minutes with him on the court.
The Heat will always fight. They’ll always defend, and they may have enough offense now to hang tight with any team down the stretch. But will any of that even matter if they can’t get the job done when things matter most?
The Heat are certainly a tough out. But are they anything more than that?
How to Bet the Heat
The Heat are in a strange spot, especially since they could face the Nets in the opening round depending on how the play-in games shake out.
If the Heat do draw the Nets, it’s entirely possible they open as underdogs in the first round. In that scenario, it’s entirely possible the Heat would be series underdogs in every playoff series. That’s wild for a team that would have home court all the way to the NBA Finals. The Heat love to play with a chip on their shoulder, but it’s tough to win four series as an underdog.
It’s just really hard to shake the feeling that the Heat are more the team that pushes an opponent to six or seven games than the one who repeatedly gets the job done there. For the season, Miami’s had a top-five defense and a fringe top-10 offense with a Net Rating around fifth- to seventh-best.
The Heat profile as more of a feisty, dangerous underdog than an overwhelming favorite; they even play that way.
Miami relies heavily on 3-pointers and turnovers, which makes them a high-variance team. They’re top-five in most 3-point attempts allowed but also top-five in lowest 3-point percentage given up. Miami forces the third most turnovers in the league, but also turns it over at the third-highest rate.
A team that takes care of the ball, runs Miami off the arc, and hits its tough 3s could dominate these Heat and win big. But the Heat can also be a landslide when things click. When they start turning over the opponent, getting out and running, and hitting a barrage of 3s, they can avalanche an opponent and turn a game or even a whole series in just a few minutes.
Miami is 28-2 this season when the Heat make at least 40% of their 3-pointers. They’re 8-0 when they hit 50%.
That swarming, switchy defense plus a barrage of turnovers and 3s makes Miami a feisty, unpredictable opponent. It’s a great formula for an underdog because it makes the Heat unreliable.
In many ways, the Heat feel more like a dangerous 4- or 5-seed, much like they were in the bubble before making their Finals run. It’s a bummer that they’re the 1-seed “overdog” instead. But what’s fascinating is that the oddsmakers are basically treating Miami like the team we’re seeing. The 1-seed Heat have only the fifth best odds to win the East at most books. That means the futures odds for Miami are probably just about right.
I’m still not buying Heat futures because I see no need to bank on three or four series wins when we can just play this team as an underdog along the way.
To me, the Heat are one of the ultimate wildcards in these playoffs. They’ll have a coaching advantage in almost any series. They play tenacious defense and have a dangerous offense. This team is theoretically better than the one that made the Finals with the addition of Lowry and the improvements to Herro and Adebayo. We know this team believes in itself.
The right way to play the Heat is betting them as what they secretly are — underdogs. I want to play Miami when it’s down in a game, knowing the turnovers and 3s can swing a game in a hurry. I want to play this team down in a series, after an opponent has stolen home court in Game 1 or 2. That’s when we’ll get a good plus number on the Heat
The Heat do not profile as a great No. 1 seed favorite. But they’ll always be a live betting option as the underdog team they secretly are.