Closely guarded, Jimmy Butler protected the ball at the left wing as he waited for a screen. Then, with time and momentum seeming to favor his opponent, the Miami Heat forward attacked.
Butler darted into the paint. Despite the Nets’ defense collapsing around him, he banked his shot off the backboard. It fell. The Heat, who have NBA championship odds of +1100, were on their way to extending their winning streak to five games earlier this month with a three-point lead and 22.3 seconds to go.
In the wake of blockbuster trades between some of the league’s best teams, the Heat have secured command of the Eastern Conference. And they have the balance, talent and coaching to contend for a title.
Though they possess the fourth-best NBA odds of winning the East at +550, the Heat are atop the conference standings at 37-21. They’re tied with the Chicago Bulls and are 1.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks. Butler has the best NBA betting odds to win the MVP award on the Heat, but he’s 12th league-wide at +20000.
This highlights how well-rounded the Heat have been. Butler is the only All-Star on the squad, yet they’ve risen up the rankings nonetheless.
“We’ve been playing some great basketball as of late,” Butler said, “and we just need to continue to do that.”
Miami Heat Showing Balance
Miami is ranked sixth in the NBA’s defensive rating and seventh on the offensive end. Only two teams, the Suns and Grizzlies, are that high in both areas.
Simultaneously, Bam Adebayo is the only Heat player in the top 50 in either area who’s played more than 15 minutes per game and has more than 10 appearances. The center has the 11th-best NBA betting odds for Defensive Player of the Year at +12500.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra pointed out Adebayo’s versatility on defense. Against the Nets, he switched, trapped and protected on the weak side.
“I think he’s already proven himself, what kind of winning-impact player that he is on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “All the things that really move the needle for you to contribute to winning.”
— Bally Sports Sun: HEAT (@BallyHEAT) February 16, 2022
The Heat have no one in the top five in any major statistical category. Miami isn’t solely relying on a single person.
That’s burdensome for opponents to prepare for. This month, they compiled a five-game winning streak. The last victory was against Brooklyn, which has the third-best NBA Finals odds at +550 after a trade for star Ben Simmons.
New Additions Provide Miami Heat Championship Experience
Six Heat players are averaging double figures in scoring. Butler is the leader at 21.9, while Tyler Herro is second at 20. The guard is the favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year at -1000 odds.
Kyle Lowry, a title winner with the Raptors before a sign-and-trade this offseason, has melded well with his new team. The former All-Star guard is the team’s leading facilitator at eight assists a game.
PJ Tucker was also added to the Heat after he won a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks last season. He’s benefitting his new team in myriad ways.
Midway through the third quarter against the Nets, Tucker dove onto the court and deflected the ball away from Brooklyn’s Blake Griffin. It landed in the hands of Duncan Robinson, who cashed a 3-pointer in stride.
After the bucket fell, Tucker celebrated by raising three fingers in the air, still on the hardwood floor as the Nets returned to the other end. Robinson, on his way to play defense, pointed to Tucker to recognize his effort and high-fived him.
The team’s chemistry was on display.
“That was one of the most winning intangible plays that I’ve seen. It really was like a 30-70 ball. When you replay it, it was just a sheer force of will, just to get any kind of hand on it, but then the IQ to be ahead of it,” Spoelstra said. “It was just a heck of a winning play. That really epitomizes what PJ is all about.”
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each dropped 29 PTS in New Orleans securing the win for the @MiamiHEAT and extending their win-streak to 4! #HEATCulture@Bam1of1: 29 PTS, 10 REB, 3 STL@JimmyButler: 29 PTS, 8 REB, 4 STL pic.twitter.com/QvMeRettep
— NBA (@NBA) February 11, 2022
Following a loss to the Mavericks on Tuesday, which snapped the string of wins, Spoelstra harped on the lessons his team could learn from its mistakes. But then again, he did the same thing even following the impressive victory over the Nets a few days prior.
The Heat are seeking to become better offensively late in games, to pick up the pace in transition, to fine-tune their half-court plays. The list goes on.
Simply, the Heat have taken control of the East, and they’re still seeking to become better.
“I don’t think we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Lowry said. “And we don’t want to be that yet, honestly. We play for April, May and June. That’s our whole thing. We want to be our best team in April, May and June.”