If not for an errant Jimmy Butler shot late in Game 7 of the 2022 Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics, Miami could claim a pair of NBA Finals appearances in the last three years, and who knows, maybe even a title last June if that shot goes in.
As it is, the Heat remain an undecorated yet formidable squad that’s bringing all of the major components back for another chance to make a deep run. What’s more, there’s a chance that at least two members of the rotation, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, are just entering their prime and could raise their games.
Herro did just that last season and was the runaway choice for league’s most improved player. Adebayo was held back by injuries yet once again established himself as one of the league’s premier defenders. Miami will miss the toughness of the departed PJ Tucker, yet any team with Butler on the floor and Pat Riley in the front office and Erik Spoelstra on the bench will not want for muscle and grit. Miami is back for more and expects to have a major say in who emerges from the East next summer.
Is Kyle Lowry “fit” for duty? When he arrived two summers ago from Toronto, Lowry brought all of the necessary ingredients to the point guard spot. He also brought a body that couldn’t withstand the rigors of the season, and therefore couldn’t be relied upon. A bad hammy limited him late and sent the Heat scrambling for a replacement. At this stage of his career, Lowry needs to bring less weight and more muscle, or else.
There shouldn’t be much of a drop-off from last season for a Heat team that drips with leadership, cohesion, defensive chops and coaching. Butler and Bam are the killer B’s who show the way, and everyone else falls in line. Assuming good health, it’ll come down to postseason matchups for Miami and whether the Heat can catch the right opponent at the right time, because everything else is here for a team with few exploitable weaknesses. Projection: Playoffs.
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
15.1 — Heat opponents averaged 15.1 seconds per possession, according to Second Spectrum tracking. That was the league’s highest opponent average.
— John Schuhmann
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Kyle Lowry: His steadiness and leadership is unquestioned; Lowry is a smart veteran who must dismiss any doubts about his durability here in his twilight.
Duncan Robinson: He does one thing well, but when the 3-pointer isn’t falling, Robinson becomes a liability who was benched late last season because of his limitations.
Jimmy Butler: A solid, old-school star who brings consistency and an appetite for big moments, even if it doesn’t always result in a heroic ending.
Nikola Jovic: The rookie might not start, but the Heat have a critical need to replace Tucker at power forward and could just play three guards instead.
Bam Adebayo: Good rebounder and defender who has improved offensively to the point where Miami is calling his number more often.
Tyler Herro: Averaged just over 20 points last season and never was bashful about taking the big shot.
Victor Oladipo: If Lowry stumbles, Oladipo is the most logical candidate to get reps at point guard even though he’s not a natural at the position.
Max Strus: An underdog who fought his way into the rotation and became a reliable and needed floor-spacer as last season progressed; can he do that again?
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Heat have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
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