The Heat, missing Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro, fell to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night but despite that, they remain in a good place to make a second-half of the season run to the playoffs.
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The Heat dazzled the NBA world by making an improbable run to the NBA Finals during the bubble season of 2020 as the fifth seed but last season, after finishing sixth, Miami crashed out of the playoffs, swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
The toll of two seasons played in a condensed period of time took its toll on the Heat, but Miami entered this season healthy and full of hope.
Unfortunately, season 2021-22 has provided its challenges as well.
Tyler Herro has elevated his game and is the clear Sixth Man of the Year favorite, but the Heat’s core players – consisting of Herro, Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker have only managed to appear in a total of 14 games together .
In games without Adebayo the Heat are 17-8, and 12-6 in games without Butler.
The Miami Heat’s core starting five have only played 14 games together.
They have the second best record in the Eastern Conference 😳 pic.twitter.com/4HUyWESjOT
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 22, 2022
The fact that Miami lies third in the Eastern Conference at 29-17, just a half-game behind the top seed, is a testament to coach Erik Spoelstra being able to get the best of whichever player’s number is called up next.
During Adebayo’s near two-month absence, along with not having Butler (their leading scorer), Miami has had to rely on improved performances from role players such as Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, rookie Omer Yurtseven and Caleb Martin.
Strus is averaging 11.7 points per game, Martin 9.6 and Vincent 8.9 as all have stepped up at various stages this season.
The Heat does what they’ve historically done – play hard-nosed defense.
The Heat is ranked eighth in defensive rating (107.7) and has had to rely on the scrappiness of its defense to scrape through some games this season.
Held em to 12 points in the 4th (21.7% FG) and only 5 over the final 7 minutes. #HEATCulture at its finest. Suffocation!
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) January 20, 2022
Since 1995-96, only the San Antonio Spurs (24) have made more playoff appearances than the Heat (20). At this rate, Miami is well on its way to closing that gap further this season.