Erik Spoelstra, The Reason for the Success

The Miami Heat are currently 10-1 in this year’s post-season, but who is the main reason for that?

Is it Jimmy Butler’s late game heroics?

Is it Bam Adebayo’s unbelievable impact?

Is it Goran Dragic’s terrific scoring stretch?

Although these are viable options, it seems as Erik Spoelstra deserves a lot of the credit.

Game two of the Eastern Conference Finals definitely put a stamp on that, when Spo not only made huge adjustments, but got this team focused. The Heat were playing like a team up 1-0 in the series during the first half, which is very unlike them to do so. But it seemed as if every player came out of the locker room at halftime with the same exact amount of energy. They were back to Miami Heat basketball.

Spo then made the adjustments that ultimately won them this game. He inserted Derrick Jones Jr in the lineup in the second half over Kendrick Nunn, and it worked as you’d expect. Derrick matches up well with this Boston team defensively, since he can guard any of Boston’s iso players one-on-one. But he didn’t need to play much defense one-on-one, since Spo adjusted to the 2-3 zone defense, which is where DJJ fits perfectly. Not only because of his quickness and length to get steals, but just the discomfort that he gives guys with the ball in their hands.

He also adjusted some offensive schemes as well, utilizing Bam Adebayo on the pick and rolls. They know Bam is not going to take Boston’s bigs in the post on the offensive side, but he will play above, around, and under the rim.

This is just a one game sample size of the things Spo has had to do to come away with wins.

He had to make some tough decisions entering the playoffs as well. Benching Kendrick Nunn for Goran Dragic, removing Meyers Leonard from the rotation, and even giving Tyler Herro the reigns of the offense late in big playoff games. But ultimately, this has a little something to do with Spo knowing his personnel.

He knew Goran would step up to the plate to give him quality starting minutes, and he knew Meyers Leonard would step down and still utilize his voice and leadership on the sideline. That’s because these guys share the same mentality as Spo, they just want to win.

Jimmy Butler said to media after game two, “He makes everybody feel comfortable. Hell, I’m glad he’s my coach.” Even Heat legend Dwyane Wade talked about the success of Spoelstra, saying “He’s a great coach man. He won’t get the respect from the outside, but from all of us who really know, he got it.”

Erik Spoelstra and this Heat team are now two wins away from the NBA finals. And if you don’t think that Spo has something else up his sleeve to close out this series, you are absolutely wrong.

 

Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) is a regular on Five on the Floor properties.

Heat Prove They are up to the Challenge

Rarely has a playoff matchup been introduced with this much uncertainty. Given the unprecedented bubble environment and lack of past matchups between the two teams as presently constructed, there weren’t many voices around the NBA willing to confidently predict how the Eastern Conference Finals would play out. ESPN experts were split down the middle, with 11 people picking the Heat and 11 picking the Celtics, everyone agreeing that the series would last 6 or 7 games. The general consensus seemed to be that the series could go either way. 

Still there were people who doubted whether the Miami Heat belonged, people who doubted whether they could challenge the Boston Celtics as much as the Toronto Raptors had the series before. These people took the Heat’s dominance over the top-seeded Bucks as proof of Milwaukee’s fraudulence rather than evidence of Miami’s prowess. Paul Pierce (an unbiased voice, no doubt) went as far as to say that the Miami Heat hadn’t been “tested” yet. There were some legitimate questions about whether the Heat had defensive personnel to contain Boston’s array of electric offensive players. Would Kemba be the guy to finally exploit Miami’s point of attack issues on defense? Would Crowder be able to keep up with the Celtics’ young wings? As cocky as Miami fans acted and as divided as opinions were on the conference finals matchup, there were whispers about whether this would be the round where this unlikely, unexpected Miami Heat team would be exposed and outmatched. After a dominant first quarter from Boston, people had to wonder whether Miami would get run off the floor. 

If the following three quarters of game 1 proved anything, it’s that nobody should be worried about whether Miami is up to this challenge.

With a bit of zone, plenty of trapping, and a lot of Bam flying around the court, the Heat did an incredible job of shutting down Kemba Walker and disrupting the rest of Boston’s offense. Despite a typical star scoring performance from Jayson Tatum and the odd hot shooting night from Marcus Smart, Miami’s defensive personnel showed that they could keep up. Crowder looked plenty capable of sticking to Boston’s best wings and guys like Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro weren’t the defensive liabilities some worried they may be in this series.

On the offensive end, Goran continued his all-star level playoff play, getting the Heat running and pulling the team out of their first quarter slump. Boston’s number 1 defense didn’t stop Miami from getting into a rhythm and finding their shots. Herro and Adebayo displayed a level of patience, poise, and awareness uncommon in players their age, ending with 9 assists each. Never looking outmatched, Miami found open shooters, attacked the paint, and got Boston into foul trouble. The teams seemed as evenly matched as it gets, but down the stretch of a competitive game the Heat’s leaders didn’t flinch a bit. They climbed back from a 12 point deficit entering the fourth quarter, overcame a questionable off-ball foul that sent the game to overtime, and weathered a huge clutch shot from “Cardiac” Kemba, to come away with a huge game 1 win (on the road!). All it took was a couple of clutch plays from 20 year old Tyler Herro, a couple of clutch plays from Jimmy Butler, and a game saving block by Bam Adebayo that Magic Johnson called “the best defensive play [he’s] ever seen in the playoffs”. This not-so-humble 5 seeded Heat battled Boston to the last second and never blinked. 

There are concerns, of course. While Duncan Robinson was able to get more open looks than he got in 5 games against the Bucks, he was limited by foul trouble and couldn’t find his rhythm. Kendrick Nunn continued to be a liability for the Heat, which means more weight falls on the shoulders of 34 year old Goran Dragic. Kelly Olynyk struggled, and if he can’t turn it around, the Heat will have a hard time surviving minutes where Bam rests. The Heat fell into the same offensive lulls that we saw against the Bucks and Pacers, but it looks like the Celtics have the offense to make them pay for them. The margin of error for Miami is razor thin, and Boston will punch back in game 2. Meanwhile, the recovering Gordon Hayward looms and Celtics fans have to hope that his return can tip the scales of a mostly balanced matchup. 

The Celtics aren’t the Bucks. They certainly aren’t the Pacers. Brad Stevens will adjust, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown will get going. It looks like Erik Spoelstra and the Heat will need everything they’ve got if they’re going to win the East. The outcome of the Eastern Conference Finals is not much more certain than it was a day ago, but here what is clear. Spo isn’t scared. Bam isn’t scared. Herro, Crowder, Dragic, Butler certainly aren’t scared. Riley sure ain’t scared. Nor should you be. 

 

Jack Alfonso can be found at @AlfonsoHoops. Photo courtesy of @MiamiHeat on Twitter.

Season Ticket: It’s Heat vs. Celtics, Riley vs. Ainge, as it should be

Everyone always is asking for moments, the behind the scenes stuff that made the Big Three era of Miami Heat basketball so unique, so special, so surreal, a spectacle never to be repeated in any sport at any level. Most memories are hazy now, more than six years out, with all gone from the Heat roster but the Miami Methuselah himself, the venerable Udonis Haslem, and the world changed in virtually every other way. But I always return to New Orleans, on the 29th of March, 2013, for the moment when it most felt like it would never end.

The Heat, at the peak of their powers, and on the strength of a beer-addled Shane Battier bus speech on Super Bowl Sunday in Toronto, had just ripped through the NBA for 27 straight victories, some dominant, some miraculous (poor Cavs and their 27 point lead), most running together now in retrospect. That streak, however, had ended two nights earlier in Chicago, on a series of Kirk Hinrich hip checks and 45 combined points from future Heat players Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler, with LeBron James — who has never played better basketball than during that three-month stretch — complaining in the United Center locker room about the Bulls’ cheap shots.

So now two days had passed, and word had gotten to James, as it always did, about someone taking another sort of cheap shot at him. Apparently, Danny Ainge, one of the NBA’s all-time irritants, had injected himself in the discussion by blasting James on WEEI-Boston for whining too much: “I think it’s almost embarrassing that LeBron would complain about officiating.” As the Heat’s morning shootaround ended, before he exited Smoothie King Arena, James corralled a couple of hungover reporters to engage in conversation about Ainge’s comments.  He was smiling, but serious.

“Who the f— he think he is? Mind his own f— business.”

That night, the Heat were scheduled to face the Hornets, the team that would become the Pelicans, featuring Anthony Davis, who now is James’ teammate with the Lakers. Four of us gathered in front of the visiting locker room at Smoothie King Arena to hear from Erik Spoelstra about starting a new streak and finishing the season strong. That’s when Tim Donovan, who has run the Heat’s media relations since Pat Riley arrived in 1995, emerged from the locker room with a message, scribbled on a napkin or a small sheet of paper or something.

“This is from Pat.”

Well, OK.

“Danny Ainge needs to shut the f— up and manage his own team.”

Come again?

We can tweet that?

“Yes.”

So we did, and then a few minutes later we were allowed to enter. There was James, as always, sprawled out in the center of the floor, his trainer Mike Mancias stretching him as he furiously scrolled through Twitter, the broadest smile you’ve ever seen at the show of support, before sprinting to the court and sinking six three-pointers in the first half on the way to an 18-point win.

James was never leaving.

Riley, using Ainge to his own ends, was never losing.

The Heat’s success…. was never ending.

******

It did end, of course, if not until after another championship and another NBA Finals appearance.

James did leave, of course, ultimately bristling at Riley’s control, among about 30 other factors.

Riley did lose, not just James, but franchise icon Dwyane Wade, and enough games to miss the playoffs in 2014-15, 2016-17 and 2018-19, three of only six times that’s happened in a quarter-century. Worse, he lost his way, forgetting who he is and what his franchise represents, overpaying average players rather than merely developing them, blocking the path for the truly elite to arrive. As he put it so succinctly after too many run-ins with the likes of Whiteside and Waiters, “I let the culture slip.”

But here Riley is, literally perched up in the rafters to watch a Bubble team that embodies that culture better than any in his entire Heat tenure, a collection of hoop junkies pushed by four grizzled veterans, two of whom (Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic) told their families to stay away because this was a bleeping “business trip,” one of which (Andre Iguodala) is best known for ripping a Finals MVP from James, and one of whom (Udonis Haslem) is somewhat responsible for anyone still playing at all, since he’s the one with the cred and guts to stand up to James and others in a tense NBA players meeting and tell them how things needed to be, how they needed to use their platforms. Riley’s here with a team filled out by young grinders, two of them (Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo) also part of Bluegrass Nation, both more talented than he was as a player, but with the same rugged mentality as when he hounded Jerry West in practice. He’s here with a squad carefully molded by a coach, Erik Spoelstra, who is now even better than he ever was, but stands as a testament to the stability and consistency and trust of the organization Riley established.

And look who stands in his way.

“The biggest whiner going when he was playing,” Riley also said of Ainge in that statement, on Miami Heat letterhead (!), in 2013. “And I know that because I coached against him.”

Whiner isn’t that far removed, in terms of letters, from winner.

And Ainge, like Riley, is that too. As a player. As an executive. As a team-builder. As a rival. That is why he gets under Riley’s skin so much, because not everyone earns that insertion. Riley’s Lakers took two of the three NBA Finals meetings between 1983 and 1987, but it was never easy. And while the Celtics were largely dormant in Riley’s first decade with the Heat, missing the playoffs the first six seasons while coached by ML Carr and Rick Pitino, they have been a force in most of the seasons since.

This is the Celtics’ sixth Eastern Conference finals since he assumed control of the front office in 2005.

Only one East franchise has been here more since.

The Heat, with seven.

Riley has been the ultimate scavenger during his Heat tenure, even winning titles with two players Ainge no longer really wanted, Antoine Walker in 2006 and then Ray Allen in 2013. Now he has Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder, both discarded by Boston in the accumulation of other assets. But there is no denying Ainge has done something significant in Boston, learning from the decline of his own dynastic 1980s team by swindling the Nets in dumping the declining Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on them — just in time for Riley’s Big Three to render them impotent in Brooklyn — for a slew of selections; robbing the LeBron 2.0 Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade; then recovering from Irving’s implosion by replacing him with the more pliable, amenable Kemba Walker. He and Riley haven’t done everything the same, but they are more similar and successful than any other executives in the Eastern Conference for the past 15 years, with only Toronto’s Masai Uriji close. Neither believes in following a fickle, bogus Process, and both made the 76ers look silly with recent transaction, Ainge scooping up an extra first rounder to slide down and take franchise cornerstone Jayson Tatum instead of Markelle Fultz, and Riley taking Jimmy Butler from the 76ers for a nice but replaceable player (Josh Richardson) he took 40th overall.

And so they both here, after the ebbs and flows, both positioned to stay atop the East for a while, or at least as long as each continues in his current position. Ainge is 14 years younger, but greybeard Riley has appeared equally vibrant of late. He has a team he loves, a coach he trusts, cap space he craves. He has a strong stable of minds in his front office and on the sidelines, so strong that every team in the league with an opening is trying to steal the likes of Dan Craig and Adam Simon and Shane Battier, and no one seems to want to leave. He has his reputation back. And he has a star in Butler who shares his f-the-world ethos even more than James does, and who would absolutely say the same to Danny Ainge or anyone else without thinking twice.

He has Danny Ainge’s Celtics in his sights, with LeBron James and the Lakers possibly on the other side, since everything in the NBA always comes full circle. He has shut the f— up and managed his own team this time, staying mostly behind the scenes, letting Spoelstra shape it into a modern masterpiece, with ball movement reminiscent of the Spurs squad that ended James’ Miami time But so has the other guy, the guy in green, the one he respects as much as loathes, the one who has his own solid veterans and his own young stars and his own amiable, creative young coach in Brad Stevens. Now we see, once again but probably not for all, who has f—– managed better.

 

Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick @5ReasonsSports) has covered the Miami Heat since 1996 and is the CEO and Chief Content Editor of Five Reasons Sports. 

We’re Miami Heat fans, and you may not understand

Forgive me father for I have sinned. It’s been nearly 30 days since I last did what I vowed to never do and what I proactively try to avoid and that is get into a protracted exchange with someone on Twitter. And I could have left well enough alone but, God help me, I just could not. It’s like Michael Corleone in the terrible Godfather III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

 

Just a little programming note, this is not going to be a breakdown of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. Heck, it’s not even about the playoffs. Folks far smarter than I have that well covered on the latest episode of Five on the Floor. Or get a recount of the Heat’s presser courtesy of Brady Hawk.

 

Truthfully, this piece will be a bit selfish. Well, plenty selfish.

 

So this began a couple days ago when writer Chris Haynes reported that Giannis Antetokounmpo was meeting with Milwaukee Bucks ownership to discuss his future and the team’s direction. Of course, many in the Twitterverse weighed in. Writer Kevin O’Connor replied with a smiling Jack Nicholson meme and wrote simply, “Pat Riley right now.” 

 

Oh how I loved it.

 

Naturally, many people commented. But one in particular got my Irish up. I’ll refrain from sharing his Twitter handle to save him from any embarrassment because, really, it was rooted in foolishness. In order for you to keep up, let’s just call him, “Stu”.

 

Stu provides several scenarios that go on to mock what teams would feebly offer Milwaukee in return for the Greek Freak. He offers his assessment as best as anyone can in 280 characters and a natural reaction to chime in within seconds of the Tweet he just read — misguided, uninformed, and half-cocked. 

 

Stu cites Miami as having nothing but a, “…glorified role player that you’ll have to pay 20 million plus, some role players, and a shitty first.”

 

Of course, Stu is referring to Bam Adebayo as that glorified role player. Hell to the no, he didn’t just go there.

 

Our exchange featured me weighing in with the usual Miami Heat stan talking points:

  1. Great front office.
  2. Great player development.
  3. Great coach.
  4. Great organization.
  5. Great track record.

 

As you can see, everything is great because it is.

 

Stu’s reply is that the Bucks will want someone under 25 and that Bam is not. He continues blaspheming by saying that Bam is not, “…a blue chipper.” I became enraged. The gall of him to not only get it wrong but to add years to our guy. So unnecessary. 

 

I correct him that Bam is under 25, is a first time All-Star, and is blossoming. He blows right by the correction of his erroneous take. We essentially go back and forth. 

 

I’m touting Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg, Erik Spoelstra, and a partridge in a pear tree. His only retort is that the Bucks will want something significant in return in exchange for their guy, which I don’t disagree with. It’s Stu’s contention that the Heat have nothing to give, which he is not entirely incorrect. And though Stu’s Twitter bio simply says, “Hoops fan”, he has a George Mikan headshot as his profile pic, and has, “Hoops” in his handle, I am getting the feeling that his exposure to “hoops”, as he would say, is whatever happens to crawl across his telly on TNT or ESPN. I write this because he is utterly dismissive of Riley and company, replying condescendingly that he appreciates my fandom and that I’m acting “…like Miami is the only decent FO and because of that their getting him.” Yes I just wrote exactly what he typed.

 

Firstly, ladies and gentlemen, please make sure you know the proper uses of there, their, and they’re. It’s like to, two, and too. These things annoy the bejeezus out of me. it feels like Stu knew this and did it purposely just to annoy the hell out of me.

 

Anyway, my counter is that with this front office, I…have…seen…some…ish. We all have.

 

We can go back to the acquisition of Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. We can talk about the acquisition of Shaq. We can talk about the offloading of Shaq. We can talk about the offloading of the Horrible Contracts That Shall No Longer Be Spoken Of. And this is just some of the highlights. Stu can use Google if he wants the other great points.

 

I finish off by sharing with Stu a recent episode of the Lowe Post podcast where ESPN writer Zach Lowe spends an hour plus with Dan Le Batard and is just gushing over Heat culture and their wonderful front office. Side note, you can get the comments directly at the 10:00 and 55:00 minute marks! Stu can hear from a more reputable source echoing my opinion if he so chooses. 

 

To me, I feel like it’s a good little capper to my exchange with Stu. I feel like I’ve taken his lunch money, his Trapper Keeper, and his extra bag of Doritos.  I imagine that if Stu is actually listening to the episode that he’s trying to figure out exactly how to respond. I imagine it’s a lot like Kayleigh McEnany looking down at the podium and rifling through papers whenever presented with irrefutable evidence of stupidity that she needs to answer for or meanderingly explain. And like Kayliegh’s reflex is to desperately search for a coherent retort, so too is Stu’s. He’s likely to miss the point and just reply with something rote like, “The Heat have no players the Bucks want.”

 

And with that, this entire exchange would be all for naught. Insert face-in-palm emoji here.

 

The reason I share this story is to lend more credence to the narratives that everyone hates the Heat and that we Heat fans are easily triggered. Well, at least this Heat fan is. Nothing gets me going more than anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, and, now, anti-Heaters.

 

We can all agree that this team has overachieved and exceeded our often lofty expectations because they have. Talking about lofty expectations, I used to talk up Mark Blount! 

 

Heat fans, we have become emboldened not just by this moment, but by the sum of all the moments where our team seemed out of the running or down for the count or Stephane Lasme and have come triumphantly out the other side like Andy Dufresne crawling through miles of shit in Shawshank Redemption. 

 

Heat fans, we are excited that regardless of the result of this series against Boston, this past season would be just the appetizer preceding the main course that is the summer of 2021 or whenever we get back on track from COVID. And that is when we will truly feast!

 

Was this exchange necessary? Likely not. But our team–our Miami Heat–is in the Eastern Conference Finals. Nobody defecates on our team, not the least of which someone who had the temerity to call Bam a role player or dismiss the power of our team’s culture.  Not now.

 

Stu did give a valiant effort, but ultimately he should go home and get his shine box. So in honor of the brave educators out there caring for our children and our future, Stu gets an “F”. 

 

Yes. S-T-U can now S-T-F-U.

 

Thanks for reading. Wear a mask. Let’s go Heat.

 

Ramon Lo (@TheOnlyRamonLo) is a contributor to FiveReasonsSports.com. To sponsor this and any other content, reach out to Sales@FiveReasonsSports.com 

Heat’s Goran Dragic, on a Tear, is Hardly Done

One minute and 21 seconds on the clock.

Jimmy Butler with the ball at the top of the key up five. He drives to the basket and gets double teamed. Goran Dragic noticing, finds open space on the opposite baseline. Jimmy finds him and Goran hits the dagger to finish off the Milwaukee Bucks in game five.

After a bunch of wild sequences that followed this possession, this play got pushed aside. But it shouldn’t have. Miami was in major need of a bucket, and Goran delivered once again.

This was just another clear example of Goran’s unbelievable feel for the game off the ball, which isn’t normal for a point guard.

But what is normal for Goran?

Is it normal for a 34 year old to be playing 35 minutes a game in the playoffs? No, it’s not.

Is it normal for a player to naturally adjust from a sixth man role to the starting point guard and absolutely flourish? No, it’s not.

But well, it is normal for Goran Dragic. He’s a player that plays the exact same way every game, since he can control the game at his own speed. This is why Goran has played so well with the bench unit throughout the season, since he can be in control of the offense.

He’s currently averaging 21.1 points per game in the nine playoff games played, but that number doesn’t fully express the things he has done for this team in this deep postseason run. Big shot after big shot. Crucial play after crucial play.

Although he’s a bit of a defensive liability, he has made much needed defensive plays throughout the playoffs, including vital double teams and clutch steals late in games. That’s because he’s a winner. And winners do things that they don’t usually do to end games.

(You can get that here…)

He’s also a guy that plays with the most lineups on the team. Spo continually likes to mix him in with different units to find a spark. And he’s found that spark as of late with inserting Goran in with the second unit, which he’s played with throughout the regular season. This then allows Goran to be the number one option on the floor, while he’s more of a facilitator with Jimmy Butler and the starting unit.

This doesn’t take anything away from the special connection of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. They both end up on the court together to finish games out late in the fourth quarter, which allows them to bounce off each other. They usually put the ball in the hands of whoever has it going at that time, just as we saw them do to close out game five. And they’ve also had a clear chemistry off the court, mostly since Goran shares the same exact mentality that Jimmy does, which is a winning one. He mentioned the other day in a session with media, “I love my teammates,” and it clearly shows that’s true in the games.

Goran Dragic is here for one reason and one reason only, which is to win a championship.

It doesn’t matter if it’s EuroBasket, a practice scrimmage, or game 7 of the NBA finals, you can guarantee Goran’s going to give it all that he’s got. He’s a Miami Heat type player, which has been further shown over this stretch.

The dragon has fire in his eyes heading into the Eastern Conference Finals, and he’s not satisfied.

 

Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) contributes on the website and on Five on the Floor shows. If you want to sponsor his work, email Sales@FiveReasonsSports.com 

Tyler Herro May Be the Future, But Also the Present

You’d think people would be surprised that a 20 year old rookie is taking over playoff games against the best team in the NBA, but with Tyler Herro it’s no shock.

In the nine playoff games so far, he’s averaging 14.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game, as well as playing the most fourth quarter minutes on the team. He’s earned the respect and trust from his teammates and coaches the day he put on a Miami Heat uniform, but this playoff stretch has put him on another level.

If you take a look at his outstanding game five performance to close out the series against the Milwaukee Bucks, he pretty much took over. Superstar Jimmy Butler even took a step aside late in the game to let Tyler do what he does best. But that’s because Tyler Herro truly lives for these moments.

While many guys would probably hide in the corner in those situations, Tyler makes sure to go and get the ball at the top of the key, to put Miami in a position to make a play. And now that he’s added so many more dimensions to his offensive package, it makes him even more lethal.

Goran Dragic deserves some credit for the development of Tyler as well, since he’s added a bunch of Goran’s moves to his offensive play. This includes the patience on the pick and roll, the floater around the rim using the backboard, and even uses that off hand push off to his advantage that Goran has done is whole career.

If you take a look back at people’s perception of Tyler Herro early in the season, they’d probably start by saying he’s a natural scorer. Which he is, but if you asked every Heat player on the roster to describe  Herro, they’d name at least three things before speaking about his scoring.

Duncan Robinson spoke about the elite play of Tyler Herro in the postseason a couple days ago, which he said that his play-making abilities stand out to him more than his scoring. He also talked about his natural feel for the game, which he can read different situations in the game.

Herro has also put up similar numbers in his first six playoff games to Heat legend Dwyane Wade. And it seems as if Dwyane approves of Tyler’s outstanding play as of late.

He also has a beneficial match-up in the next round, with an expected Boston Celtics series. He’s played well against Boston this year, and that was when Marcus Smart was coming off of the bench to try and stop him. But with Gordon Hayward out and Marcus Smart entering the starting lineup, it just looks better and better for Tyler Herro. Miami will be looking to him throughout this series even more than the Milwaukee series, since there’s a clear advantage right there.

And now, here we are. The Eastern Conference Finals. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo leading the way, with Goran Dragic being the unstoppable offensive force that he is. But, now it’s indeed Tyler Herro time.

Tyler Herro may be the future of this Heat team, but his time is now. He doesn’t need a rookie of the year trophy to cap off his extended rookie season. He’d rather take the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and it’s closer than ever.

 

Brady Hawk can be found at @BradyHawk305. If you’d like to sponsor this or other content, reach out to FiveReasonsSports@gmail.com 

 

For Dangerous Miami Heat, the Time is Now… and Beyond

There aren’t many speakers in sports over the past half-century who can rival Pat Riley in eloquence, especially when he has a mission statement to share and some time to prepare. So it was odd, and a little alarming, at the conclusion of the disappointing 2018-19 season when — on his heels after two years of uncharacteristic personnel errors — he seemingly mangled the message.

“There’s no obstacles,” the Miami Heat president said. “Well, there are tons of them, but there’s none. So we’ll try to get past them if we can to add more to the team, if that’s a possibility.”

It wasn’t enough the sort of slogan you stitch a shirt for…..

Or was it?

Peering back now, one Jimmy Butler acquisition, one Tyler Herro drafting, one Bam Adebayo ascension, one Duncan Robinson breakout, one Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala addition, one global pandemic and one Bubble resumption later, it sounds like the most sage thing the septuagenarian has ever said. It’s almost as if he knew the Heat would be here now, in the second round against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, again relevant, again attractive, again the franchise every other one fears because of its combination of continuity, geography, history and dare we say, culture.

It all makes me think of something a Heat executive told me at summer league, a full July ago, as Herro, Robinson and Kendrick Nunn were offering a sample of what was to come, the product of an organizational transformation bent on development and opportunity for the overlooked. “We have been in several building stages under Pat,” the executive said over breakfast. “This is another. We are better positioned than most believe we are. But some things have to pan out.”

And what hasn’t? Butler? Better fit, better leader, better playmaker than anyone expected. Adebayo? An All-Star before anyone expected. Herro? Who anticipated he’d be so confident so soon? Goran Dragic? More left than anyone thought. Robinson? As Heat broadcaster and former guard John Crotty said on Five on the Floor this week when asked if he’d ever seen a player come from so far from nowhere, in all his decades in the NBA: “No, no. I haven’t. Have you?”

No.

Not close.

And so here we are, on the final day of August, usually the deadest of all NBA months, and the Heat — believed to have the “bleakest future in the NBA” by the best of all NBA writers, Zach Lowe, not long ago — are suddenly a national darling. They are a threat at least a season before they should be, but that’s not the story.

The story is this is the floor.

This arrow points north again, way north. The Heat have the best collection of young talent, attractive contracts, proven management and elite coaching of any team in the league, with only the Toronto Raptors comparable, and Toronto has more offseason decisions to make, how to handle expiring contracts Fred Van Vleet or Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka, all integral to this season’s success. Miami has free agents too, but the capacity to keep them all if they choose, at least for one season, or move on with others — like the uber-gifted, uber-secret KZ Okpala — training in wait.

And of course, they have a plan again.

A real plan. Not a sign middling players to long-term, restrictive deals plan.

Before Thanksgiving, prior to this sentiment becoming widely popular, I tweeted this:

I didn’t generate this sentiment entirely on my own.

It was presented to some in the organization and — though tampering rules prevented full disclosure — it was obvious this was intentional.

It was obvious that Giannis Antetokounmpo was LeBron James 2.0.

You remember LeBron before he took his talents to South Beach? Playing in an unglamorous, chilly market? Winning two MVPs but unable to attract another prime superstar, not Chris Bosh, not Amare Stoudemire, just elderly Shaq and fading Antawn Jamison and a limited shooter named Mo Williams? Giving it nearly a decade to work, entering the second half of his 20s, weary of hearing how he couldn’t get to the top when he wasn’t surrounded by top talent? Seeing a friend (Dwyane Wade) who had thrived in the Heat program? Who had won big in the Heat program?

Sound similar to what may happen now?

It did to some Heat officials.

So here we are.

Heat vs. Bucks.

The series the Heat wanted, and not just because they believe it to be winnable, with many of the matchups in their favor, particularly if Eric Bledsoe scuffles in big moments like he did last postseason, if some of the Bucks’ older bodies break down, if Khris Middleton (call him “swingman Mo Williams”) shrinks on the stage as he has at times.

They wanted it so Giannis can see up close.

See what he can have, and what he can be.

Here. In Miami.

See his training buddy, Bam Adebayo — with whom he shares an agent and a mentality — and what he can offer as a defensive complement.

See Jimmy Butler take some of the leadership and media burden off his shoulders, someone who will stick up for his teammates time and time again, so long as they work like him.

See the shooting, so much shooting, young shooting, from Herro to Robinson and beyond.

See how the consistently innovative Erik Spoelstra beats the notoriously stubborn Mike Budenholzer to adjustments.

See what Riley has built, after building and rebuilding and rebuilding again, almost for sport, rarely in doubt.

So this isn’t just a chance to beat Giannis. It is a chance to court him. Riley isn’t putting off retiring in Malibu for Oladipo. He isn’t waiting to turn over the reins to others to reach the second round. This is taking this franchise to the top again, in what would be his greatest trick, because so many wrote him off.

Washed Riley, they said.

Perhaps.

Or perhaps he was just getting wet to spear another orca.

“There are obstacles… but there are none.” 

Everything this season is already a win.

Now, for Riley and his Heat, there is suddenly nothing to lose. And they will only lose two games this series on their way to the Eastern Conference finals, stretching a remarkable comeback story deep into September and making a certain superstar start thinking more about starting again somewhere else, south.

 

Ethan J. Skolnick has covered the Miami Heat since 1996, and is now the CEO and Lead Content Editor for Five Reasons Sports Network.

 

Five Reasons Sports: Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks Picks

It’s finally here, the series most have anticipated since long before anyone heard of Covid-19. It’s the Miami Heat and the….

Milwaukee Bucks.

The Battle for the Soul of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It also marks the return of Cocky Heat Fan.

We allowed our Fan-alysts at Five Reasons Sports to weigh in.

 

Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305):

Heat in 7. The Heat’s ability to throw multiple wing defenders at Giannis is what sets them apart. There’s clearly no way to fully stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, but I think Miami will slow him down in at least 2 or 3 games. Bam Adebayo will look to attack Giannis to try and get him in foul trouble, as he did during the season. But most importantly I believe this will be yet another huge leap for Duncan Robinson. Since Milwaukee allows an excess of threes, Duncan will expose this Bucks team, which will lead to a big Heat win in game 7.

 

Greg Sylvander (@GregSylvander)
Heat in 7. The trendy “Heat in 6” prediction feels too easy. Things are never that easy. However, I do understand why people are leaning in to Miami in this matchup. If any team presents the type of roster and coaching that can push Milwaukee to the brink it’s the Heat. If the Bucks keep one big on the floor, the player that I think becomes a major key for the Heat is Kelly Olynyk. Although I bet Milwaukee sizes down and goes with more of Giannis at the 5. He is so good (and so efficient) that if the Bucks go small and make threes they could win in 6 and it wouldn’t surprise me. But that prediction is bereft of guts. If you’ve got the guts you go Heat in 7.

 

Jannelle Moore (@Jannelle12)

Heat in 7. The Heat-Bucks match up is something that I’ve been looking forward to since their game in Miami before the season was suspended. Bam Adebayo was relentless on defense-forcing Giannis to the outside.  Speaking of outside shooting, the Heat was scorching from three in that game. Since then, the Heat has continued to play the Bucks tough. I expect nothing less. I expect Bam defending Giannis and the Heat deploying different variations of dribble handoffs to get their shooters open looks.  With that said, I take the Heat in seven.

 

Manny Chang (@MannyC_17)

Heat in 7. With players like Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson stepping up in the bubble for Miami, I see that depth being the difference overall in this series. Giannis can score 50 points, but those 50 points can result in a loss. Khris Middleton would have to step up game in and game out. I don’t see that happening. On the other hand, Jimmy Butler can score 15 points or less and still create a winning impact for his team. 

 

David Friedman (@TacoBoutSports)

Bucks in 6. Is Bam the answer to containing the reigning MVP? As we saw against Kawhi Leonard nd the Raptors in last year’s playoffs, if you can keep the Giannis freight train from endlessly steamrolling to the rim, you have a chance. The addition of Jimmy Butler gives Miami a Kawhi-ish defender, but Bam will ultimately determine how much of a chance the Heat have to beat the Bucks to move onto the Eastern Conference Finals. The homer in me says “Heat in 5”, but I’ll take the Bucks in 6 games.

 

Martin Bater (@MartinBaterSP)

Heat in 6. Jimmy Butler has become Playoff Jimmy, reaching another level. Now it’s time to witness Playoff Bam. Bam Adebayo’s defense on Giannis and his all-around offensive contributions will prove to be the difference for Miami.

 

Zack Buckley (@ZackBuckleyNBA)

Bucks in 6. Bam Adebayo is the Association’s best defensive option to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo, so much as anyone is capable of pestering a soon-to-be two-time MVP. The Greek Freak’s supporting cast hasn’t exactly aced its postseason test, and add a slumping Khris Middleton (36.1 percent shooting in the first round) to the list of concerns. Saying that, the Heat might have too many one-way players to make this work. If they load up on defense, I’m not sure they score enough to win four games, and vice versa.

 

Alfredo Arteaga (@Alf_Arteaga)

Heat in 7. This is where it was supposed to end, but the Heat’s success versus the Bucks in the regular season and in the bubble (they had a giant lead they blew a few weeks back) is very real. The Heat use dribble penetration to get the Bucks moving sude to side leaving 3 pt. Shooters open, and it’s just hard envisioning the Heat losing to anybody if they are hitting threes. Oh…and they also have a smorgasbord of options to defend Giannis too. I originally thought about picking Bucks in 7, but couldn’t make a cogent case for it. I can for the Heat.

 

David Fernandez (@ByDLFernandez)

Heat in 7. The Miami Heat entered their second round series with the Milwaukee Bucks with literally nothing to lose. This season has been an unmitigated success, and any further player development or playoff prosperity Is just extra at this point. With that lack of pressure, their history of playing well against the Bucks, and the consistent shooting, the Heat will shock the NBA world with a 7-game upset of the heavily favored Bucks. Defensive weapons to deploy against Giannis will do enough to slow the superstar, and Miami’s team-approach will see someone different take on the hero mantle with each victory.

 

David Eversole (@DavidWEversole)

Heat in 7. The Milwaukee Bucks have been on a emotional journey thus far in the NBA Playoffs. It could be reasonable to expect a slow start as in their opening series against Orlando when they face the Miami Heat on Monday. Despite their solidarity off the court, expect no mercy from the Heat on it. Miami will throw everything at Giannis Antetokounmpo to make other players beat them. It will be a grind for both teams, I expect this one to go the distance.

 

Ricky J Marc (@RickyJMarc)

Heat in 6/7. In a year marred by COVID-19, social unrest, and a variety of other controversies, it’s a miracle we can even see the HEAT and Bucks go at it in a playoff series. The Bucks have been the darling of the Eastern Conference for the last two years on the back of a supremely talented unicorn from Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The HEAT have been slowly chugging along in the post-LeBron (and now, for good, the post-Wade) era(s), and with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro via free agency and the NBA Draft, managed to develop into a legitimate thorn in the side of the league’s premier clubs. Through hard work, defense, and the confidence of its lead players, the HEAT have shown that they can match up with anybody, as we saw this season. Milwaukee is a great team, but as we saw last year, they still have a lot to prove. The easy bet is Bucks in six, but I’ll take it in the opposite direction. Miami will outwork, outshoot, and outlast this Bucks team, shocking the world in six/seven hard-fought games. We may even see a repeat of the 2016 offseason as a result, where Kevin Durant ended up joining the talented team that sent him home. If anyone can shock the world, it’s this HEAT team.

 

Josh Houtz (@Houtz)

Heat in 6. Believe it or not, before the NBA season resumed I put some $$$ on the Miami Heat to win the whole damn thing. After all, 95% of my followers love this team— so, I’m a fan whether I want to admit it or not. The Milwaukee Bucks and their 6’11 Greek god Giannis Anetokounmpo will be a tough matchup for the Heat. But with Jimmy Butler in top-form, Bam Bam Bigelow in the middle, and a dragon that not even Daenerys Targaryen can tame—Heat in 6.

 

Can the Milwaukee Bucks be the Catalyst for Real Action?

In the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin the Milwaukee Bucks have boycotted Game 5 of the NBA Playoffs. 

 

The temperature of our society has been steadily raising.

Turmoil between the supposed protectors of our people and our citizens escalates daily.

Words have been written.

Statements have been added to jerseys.

Yet it continues.

 

The systemic racial divide in this nation has reached the point where talking and writing come up empty.

Where symbolic gestures are just that, a quickly forgotten acknowledgement of the situation.

The Milwaukee Bucks have actually taken a tangible and measured step.

 

With a platform that gives them a domestic and international audience, the Bucks seized a unique opportunity to take a stand.

 

The NBA followed suit, and soon all games that were scheduled on Wednesday were cancelled.

 

Milwaukee is one organization in the world of professional sports that would have been a candidate for this stand even before today.

 

The question remains if this will merely be a footnote in the struggle for equality in the “land of the free”.

Or a springboard to real dialogue, and actual progress towards true equality and freedom.

 

Either way, it shows that people with influence and a platform care.

We have to start somewhere.

 

 

How Erik Spoelstra Transformed the Heat’s Offense

It’s a hectic scene in the Miami Heat’s locker room on the night of Dec. 13. To the immediate right is the franchise’s new star Jimmy Butler, recounting the last moments of a thrilling game to one of the biggest media scrums of the season. To the left is a Heat employee, chopping it up with Derrick Jones Jr and trying to figure out which pairs of shoes he’ll bring on the road.

Other players are clearing out, trying not to dwell on what happened 30 or so minutes prior. In a sense, they quite literally didn’t have time to. The Heat just lost a nail-biter to the LeBron-led Los Angeles Lakers, and they have a meeting with Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in less than 20 hours.

The Heat’s 113-110 loss to the Lakers was only their seventh defeat of the season to that point, putting them at 18-7 on the year. The loss also came under questionable circumstances; the NBA would later announce that Butler was fouled twice on the final possession – once before the inbound, and again during the potential game-tying three-point attempt.

From the outside, it’s easy to view this as a moral victory of sorts. The Heat took the Lakers to the wire, and very well could’ve won that game. For those who hadn’t watched the team closely to that point, the game served as a wake-up call. It was 48 minutes of proof that this team could beat anybody.

That isn’t how the Heat viewed it. 

This was a missed opportunity. There was an expectation to win. It isn’t enough to prove that they can compete with the top dogs; this should’ve been proof that they are a top dog.

That standard is why Miami wasn’t surprised when they started the season so well. That unwavering belief, that expectation of excellence, was instilled by head coach Erik Spoelstra months prior.

Laying the Foundation

While Butler was the prized signing of the summer, the acquisition of Meyers Leonard signified quite the shift for the Heat. Out went Hassan Whiteside, their max-contract interior force, and in came Leonard, a “spacer” that did most of his work in the background.

Spoelstra connected with Leonard almost immediately after the trade to get a feel for Leonard, as well as lay out his plans for him this season. 

“He came to L.A. to watch me work out two different times,” Leonard told me. “We went to lunch and he really wanted to get to know me. Which, first of all, that helped me understand just how much he cares.”

What further drew Leonard to Spoelstra was his commitment to improvement. Spoelstra rose through the Heat ranks as a video coordinator, scout and assistant coach before landing the head coaching job in 2008. His unorthodox path screams, “I work harder than just about everyone,” and that intensity was evident very early on from Leonard’s vantage point.

“The level of intensity is different,” Leonard said. “[Blazers head coach] Terry [Stotts] is a little more calm, cool and collected. The level of obsession Spo has with coaching is impressive. He is always bringing it, like, every day. I’ll never forget I was sitting in training camp during our first team meeting. He says, ‘I don’t want to wait,’ or something to that effect. ‘I don’t want to wait.’ So I’m like, alright, where is he going with this? 

“He’s like, ‘We have a very talented group of guys in this locker room, and coaches that are ready to make you guys better. I’m ready to start competing for a championship now.’ I’m like, wow, this guy’s with it!”

Not only is Spoelstra with it, he’s done it. He has been part of three championship teams in Miami, one as an assistant (2006) and two as the leading man (2012, 2013). It’s easy for newcomers to fall in line when you have that kind of pedigree. His video and scouting background, combined with his experience “in the trenches” allows him to connect on a deeper level. 

“This is a coach that’s made it to the top,” Solomon Hill told me. “I give credit to my past coaches, but [Spoelstra] has taken that next step, not just once, but a few times. Having that calm confidence about scenarios we may face kinda sets the standard.”

Hill also mentions that Spoelstra has an instant-recall about him, a nod to his scouting background.

“It’s crazy how his brain works,” Hill added. “He can tell you about a specific play against Dallas [in the Finals] that was a turning point, what happened here and what happened there.”

Spoelstra’s demeanor makes sense when you consider his path and background. It gives him instant credibility with players, and it’s a big reason why he and Butler have clicked.

That, and Spoelstra won’t hesitate to voice his displeasure.

“Thibs looks like he’d cuss you out in a heartbeat,” Butler told me. “Brett Brown didn’t look like that, he looked like a really nice guy. Spo looks like a really nice guy, right? He’ll cuss your a** out so quick.”

Being able to balance all of that – his experience, his intensity, his attention to detail and the human element – is what makes Spoelstra one of the best coaches in the NBA. 

“There’s the intensity, but there’s also the Spo that cares about you,” Leonard said. “The Spo that asks how you’re doing, and thanks you for what you bring to the table. It feels like he’s really in the trenches with us. It’s a very connected feeling with Spo, like you really want to go to war with that dude.”

Seeking out help

The main thing Spoelstra preaches is accountability. Knowing your role, accepting said role and giving everything you have. In order for him to hold others accountable, he has to do the work himself.

Spoelstra famously goes outside of the box to improve as a coach. He’s visited Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll to observe how Carroll runs things. Most notably, Spoelstra visited then-Oregon football head coach Chip Kelly to study his offense after Miami’s flop in the 2011 Finals. The Pace-and-Space Era began soon after, with Miami winning back-to-ball titles after they flipped their offense on its head.

This summer, Spoelstra attempted to make a similar shift. The Heat was (and is) known for their defense; Miami entered the summer having ranked in the top 10 in defensive rating seven of the past nine seasons. The offense, however, had been an inconsistent mess. That was especially true after LeBron James left the team after the 2013-14 campaign.

Spoelstra had new talent coming in. Butler was a perennial All-Star, a rugged-bucket getter set to give them a half-court boost they sorely missed. Replacing Whiteside with Leonard would give them more of a stretch element. Rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn had shown real creation flashes during Summer League, though their regular season roles were in question.

Even with the shiny new toys, Spoelstra knew he had to reinvent himself. This time, he sought out the counsel of Jim Crutchfield, a coaching legend in the Division II ranks. Crutchfield took over at West Liberty University in 2004, quickly turning them into one of the winningest programs in the country over the next 13 years before resigning and taking over Nova Southeastern University.

Crutchfield compiled a 359-61 record from 2004-2017, giving him an 85.5 winning percentage. What intrigued Spoelstra wasn’t just the amount of winning, but the way Crutchfield racked up those wins.

“Over 15 years, we are averaging 100 points a game,” Crutchfield told the Miami Herald in an interview. “It’s not so much about points per game as efficiency and points per possession. We’re among the top in the country in points per possession. We do it via a motion offense.”

Spoelstra entered the offseason wanting to diversify the offense. With a seventh-place finish in offensive rating this season, it’s safe to say that goal was achieved. 

Xs & Spos 

Spoelstra didn’t copy-and-paste Crutchfield’s offensive philosophy. In terms of play types, the Heat’s offense looks almost nothing like Crutchfield’s. Via Synergy, nearly 28 percent of Nova Southeastern’s offensive possessions came in transition, while that figure was 13.3 percent for Miami.

However, you can see some similarities in their “early offense” actions, particularly with Bam Adebayo operating from the elbows.

The Heat have also expanded their toolkit in the pick-and-roll game. They’re running a larger share of them overall – 19.6 percent of their possessions have come via pick-and-roll this year versus 18.8 last year, via Synergy – and they’ve featured more bodies.

Via Second Spectrum, the Heat have run 7.2 “double picks” per game this season, up from 4.1 the year prior. Flowing out of the “Double Drag” alignment is something Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, in particular, have made a staple, but the Heat have made good use of it as well. Among 61 players that have logged at least 100 possessions in “double pick” situations, the Heat have three players in the top-15 in efficiency: Nunn (2nd, 1.33 PPP), Goran Dragic (8th, 1.24 PPP) and Butler (12th, 1.21 PPP).

There were signs of more pick-and-roll variety in the preseason. When asked about it, Spoelstra expressed how he “loved the versatility” of his bigs. 

“Some of our offense is different quite naturally because of our personnel,” Spoelstra told me. “Meyers may make it look a little different with how he does it compared to bigs we’ve had in the past. Meyers’ shooting, Bam’s physicality and presence in the paint, [Derrick Jones Jr.] brings an immediate boost of energy when he comes into the game.”

Left out of that mix was Kelly Olynyk, who was recovering from a bone bruise in his knee at the time. Like Leonard, Olynyk went on to provide value as a floor spacer in ball-screen actions. Via Second Spectrum, Olynyk ranked fourth in the NBA this season in scoring efficiency (1.15 PPP) in pick-and-pop situations (min. 200 picks).

The Heat have done a better job of getting their ball-handlers downhill earlier in the clock. Via Second Spectrum, the Heat ranked 25th in points per possession (1.27) on shots within the first half of the shot clock. This year, their 1.35 mark is a hair behind the Dallas Mavericks for the league lead.

Of course, you can’t talk about Miami’s offense without mentioning their success with dribble-handoffs (DHOs). Via Synergy, the Heat lead the NBA in DHO frequency (8.8 percent of possessions), possessions per game (9.6), points per game (10.2) and efficiency (1.07 PPP).

Spoelstra has empowered Adebayo with more offensive responsibility, allowing him to flow into those two-man dances with Miami’s plethora of ball-handlers and shooters. The connection with him and Duncan Robinson has been particularly deadly.

 

Among DHO pairings with at least 100 possessions, the Robinson-Adebayo duo led the NBA in efficiency this season, generating an ungodly 1.32 points per direct handoff, via Second Spectrum. To put that into perspective, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 1.14 points per possession in transition this season. 

Robinson is the biggest reason the Heat have been the NBA’s most prolific shooting team this season. He’s one of 28 players attempting at least 7.0 threes per game; he’s also the most efficient, draining 44.6 percent of those looks. 

Much like Adebayo, Spoelstra has given Robinson the ultimate green light to stretch himself. Spoelstra made waves when he called Robinson one of the best shooters on the planet, despite Robinson shooting just 28.6 percent from three in limited action last season.

Now, you could probably count on one hand the amount of shooters you’d take over Robinson in the league today.

Set for a Run?

The Heat now stand as one of the most interesting teams to track in this year’s playoffs. They will face the Indiana Pacers in round one, a team they won the season series against (3-1). In addition to the Heat arguably having the two best players in the series, the Pacers are entering the postseason with black marks on three of their five best players.

Victor Oladipo is still trying to work himself back from a right knee injury that robbed him of most of his 2019-20 campaign. Domantas Sabonis, a first-time All-Star this year, will miss the series due to plantar fasciitis. T.J Warren, freshly named to the NBA’s All-Bubble team, has been playing through plantar fasciitis all season, and that’s before getting into the trouble he’s had dealing with Jimmy Butler. An argument can be made that the Heat should not only win the series, but win it quickly.

A series victory over the Pacers would likely set them up for a showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat won the season series, 2-1, and held a 23-point lead in the loss. They’ve shown they have the personnel to at least bother Antetokounmpo; that effort is spearheaded by the versatile Adebayo. 

Miami’s pick-and-roll and DHO attacks are uniquely qualified to neutralize the Bucks’ “drop” defense. With Milwaukee’s bigs hanging back to take away shots at the rim, it leaves them susceptible to the kind of looks that the Heat have thrived on all season. 

The Bucks will rightfully be favored in that series. They have the NBA’s best player in Antetokounmpo, a second All-Star in Khris Middleton and a deep cast of talented role players that allow them to go big or downsize however they see fit. 

But it wouldn’t be a complete shock if the Heat could pull off the unthinkable. 

Not to Adebayo, who thinks the Heat can “make a run and make noise and do a lot of things people said we couldn’t.”

Not to Butler, who told ESPN that he thinks the Heat can win a title this season.

And especially not to Spoelstra, who set the bar title-high at the beginning of the season. 

He doesn’t want to wait; neither do they.

 

Nekias Duncan (@NekiasNBA) works for a variety of outlets, but can be found frequently on Five Reasons Sports platforms, and has covered the past two NBA All-Star games for Five Reasons.

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