Just months ago, the Miami Heat finished the regular season as the best team in the Eastern Conference, defeating the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers in their first two postseason rounds and reaching their second Eastern Conference Finals in three seasons against the Boston Celtics.
The Heat led Boston to seven games despite losing three straight home games at FTX Arena. In the end, both teams were plagued by injuries – the most notable among them being Jimmy Butler (knee), Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Tyler Herro (groin), Robert Williams (knee), Jayson Tatum (shoulder) and Marcus Smart (ankle). others – really turn it into a set of wear and tear. Miami made an inspirational comeback near the end of Game 7 but failed to complete the comeback effort, falling 100-96.
There were many questions in the Heat off-season, some of which I’ve detailed here. Although I left out one of the most obvious questions because it’s a recurring question with Pat Riley almost every offseason: Will Miami be traded for another (super)star?
We know that Pat Riley will go to any lengths to smack stars from other organizations, which has always been one of his strongest attributes, for better or for worse. And by the end, The Heat was in the sweepstakes for Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell – three of the biggest stars to be made available on the retail market this offseason.
Irving and Durant weren’t traded, while Mitchell was (unexpectedly) traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the recent “Where on earth did that come from?” trade.
The biggest takeaway from their offseason: Miami seemed so fixated on acquiring another star and not wanting to drive him back – why not try to improve the team if the Brain Trust can? – that it ends up… wait for it… let it run back (to an extent)!.
The only additions to Miami’s roster are rookies Nikola Jovic, whom they drafted 27th overall, and Darius Days, whom they signed to a two-way deal on the last day of Summer League in August. Conversely, they lost a key player in PJ Tucker, who flocked to eastern rivals Philadelphia for the full-MLE – a deal Miami couldn’t afford for the 37-year-old Tucker if it wanted to hunt for an extra star or two.
Still, the Heat are still in a similar position compared to last season – among the competitive, albeit better, Eastern Conference contenders.
Are they the NBA’s famous “Dangerous Loomers” again?
Maybe! But why?
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the current over-under for wins in the season is 48.5, the fifth-highest in the Eastern Conference. While an over-under bet total is obviously a far cry from what will actually happen in an NBA season, it’s a prediction that roughly estimates where some believe the Heat will play into the season.
Make no mistake, 48-49 wins isn’t bad. And the Eastern Conference is deep; Along with Miami, Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, the Cavs, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks are all very capable of making some serious noise.
But so are the heat.
While “running it back” signifies bad vibes from the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, I would argue that the Heat have better infrastructure now than they did then. They also retained much of their core, which placed in the top 5 in the league defensively and just outside the top 10 on offense last season.
The loss of Tucker — especially to a conference rival who is a contender — hurts, but Miami has now essentially traded him for Oladipo, who played eight regular-season games last year. Miami is also banking on constant production from Kyle Lowry, who appears to be on form, and a potential improvement from Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, among others.
The Heat may not be on the same footing as the reigning champions Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Bucks or Celtics in their current streak – they still don’t have a concrete starting 4, a key component to their schematic versatility – but that is it’s not crazy to think that the Heat, who went 53-29 last year, are just below that level.
The Heat saw Lowry-Butler-Adebayo together in just 34 of their 82 regular-season games last year; Miami went 24-10 in those games — a 58-win pace — and posted a 7.3 NET rating as they were bottomed together. More familiarity on the pitch — especially when they play more than 40 percent of their games together, especially when the rest of their core is healthy — theoretically raises the team’s ceiling. That helps when Miami has arguably the best coach in the league in Erik Spoelstra, who wields his pseudo-swords in a schematic manner to maximize everyone’s skills.
Sure, Kyle Lowry or Jimmy Butler are getting younger. Butler has just turned 33 while Lowry is nearing 37. Although Butler was one of the best playoff players in the league last year, while Lowry — when he’s healthy — developed the Heat’s offense as well as anyone.
The offense fell on his face in the postseason, in part due to the lack of shot generation coupled with the dismantling of several players’ bodies. But Oladipo’s full-time integration and enhancement through his other primary/secondary creators (Herro, Vincent, etc.) should offer more creativity.
If Omer Yurtseven continues to trend upwards, Miami will have his backup center behind Bam Adebayo; The fearless Strus is to be rented out loose with established rotation point while Caleb Martin could be thrust into his biggest role yet.
And should I remind everyone that Duncan Robinson – Miami’s forgotten 3-point sniper – is still on the list? While he’s not expected to start the season on rotation, there’s still plenty of room for Robinson to fill a rotation role if – and when – he continues to diversify his offensive play.
Head coach scandals aside, yes, the Celtics have landed Malcolm Brogdon (and Gallinari, who is injured for the season) without releasing any of their top-eight rotation players; the bucks are healthy; the Sixers added Tucker and De’Anthony Melton to their already impressive core; Cleveland and Atlanta made impressive acquisitions for Mitchell and Dejounte Murray, respectively; Adding depth to their bench, Brooklyn retained both Irving and Durant while many thought at least one would not return; Ever-long-winded and lively, the Raptors will crush their opponents like coffee beans night after night.
The East is deeper and stronger than it was a year ago.
But that doesn’t mean the heat is falling flat; Don’t let the heat get hot. Since they haven’t added a name to speak of – the next being a perfectly healthy Oladipo, who could be dangerous, by the way – Miami again looks like they’re about to wind up dangerously.
Perhaps no team in the league (other than Toronto?) seizes the opportunity to beat their prey more when they are viewed as underdogs. Now they could be seen as a team fighting for the home spot after winning the Eastern Conference after having a revolving door of absences for most of the year.
If the cards are right, the so-called Dangerous Weavers could sneak into the room again in 2022/23 as one of the top sides in the league – especially when we all know anything is possible in an 82-game season.