The Miami Heat – Contenders or Pretenders?

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The Miami Heat have quietly sat atop the Eastern Conference standings for most of the regular season. At the beginning of March, the Heat held the best home record in the East. 11 of their 15 games in March would be played in Miami. The Heat seemed poised to cruise into the playoffs as the #1 seed in the East. 

They’ve since gone 8-7. The top 4 teams in the East – Miami, Boston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia – are now all separated by 2 games.

With the postseason fast approaching, can the Heat regain their footing and make a run at an NBA Championship?

Are the Miami Heat NBA Title Contenders or Pretenders?

Strengths – Experience, Defense, and Depth

The core of this Miami team – Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinsonhave been together now for a few seasons. They added P.J. Tucker, Kyle Lowry, and their long playoff resumes in the offseason. Victor Oladipo and Markieff Morris have both recently returned from injury. The Heat aren’t a young team, but they’re experienced. They know what it’s like to battle deep into the postseason. 

The Heat have the 2nd best defensive rating in the Eastern Conference behind only the Boston Celtics, who just lost star defender Robert Williams to a torn meniscus. Butler is a 5-time All-NBA Defensive player honoree and still one of the best two-way players in the league. He led the league in steals last season. If not for missing 25+ games this season, Adebayo would likely be the betting favorite for NBA defensive player of the year.

For long stretches of the season, the Heat played without Butler, Bam, and Lowry due to injuries. Herro and the Heat’s reserves stepped up in a big way in their absence. Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, and Omer Yurtseven helped steady the ship with their increased playing time. The Heat are now back to full strength, and having a deep roster of players who’ve contributed throughout the season should pay dividends in the playoffs.

Weakness – Rotation Issues 

While the Heat have one of the deepest rosters in the league, the return of their Heat’s starters has led to some real issues with Coach Eric Spoelstra’s rotations. The teams’ recent struggles reflect this. 

The Heat’s reserves played at a higher and more energetic pace than lineups with Butler, Lowry, Tucker, and Adebayo. Spoelstra has spent much of the last month tinkering with different lineup combinations to mix in some of his younger players with the veterans. The results have been mixed. Just last week there appeared to be mounting frustration in the locker room, and on the court

X-Factor – Duncan Robinson

Two seasons ago, Robinson emerged as one of the league’s top 3-point shooters, nailing 45% of his attempts from deep. Last year that number dropped to 41%, still far above the league average. This year he’s hitting only 37% of his 3’s, and the Heat are struggling because of it. The Heat will need Robinson to regain his form if they want to make a run at a title this year. 

Are the Miami Heat NBA Title Contenders or Pretenders?

On one hand, the Heat are less than 2 years removed from an NBA finals appearance. Most of their core from that season remains intact. On the other hand, their road to the Finals this season will most likely go through Milwaukee, again. 

The Bucks team that they trounced in the first round two years ago had both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middletonbut not Jrue Holiday. Holiday was added via trade the following offseason, and the Bucks swept the Heat in the first round of the 2021 playoffs en route to winning the NBA Championship.

The Heat are a better team now than they were a season ago, but the same can be said of their top competition in the East. Their recent shooting struggles and rotation issues aren’t insurmountable hurdles, but they loom large in their quest for another finals appearance. 

On Thursday night, the Heat secured a huge win over the Celtics in Boston to regain sole possession of the #1 seed in the East. Boston clearly missed having Robert Williams’ staunch defense on the floor, and Miami took full advantage of his absence. After the game, coach Spoelstra had this to say:

“That’s why I like going through all these kind of games during the regular season. We had our share of challenges going down the stretch. But what I love about this group is we come in the next day, work at it and really try to get better. Those experiences make you stronger.”

If they can continue to sort out their issues, The Miami Heat are legitimate NBA Title contenders this season. 

 

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