The Miami Heat fell short to the Milwaukee Bucks after Jimmy Butler was a late scratch with a back issue. So, that means we’re going to see a lot more of these two teams moving forward, as the playoffs slowly creep up. Anyway, here are five takeaways from this game…
#1: An interesting starting lineup choice.
Well, the Heat were without Jimmy Butler on Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, but the starting lineup went in a much different direction than originally expected. Nemanja Bjelica was inserted into the power forward position, which always seems to be the way Erik Spoelstra goes so he doesn’t mess up the rotation. The issue is that when the missing piece is Jimmy Butler, that theory should be thrown out of the window. That exact move forces everybody to shift a position, and not only positionally with Trevor Ariza to the 3. It leads to some weird offense after they’ve been so acquainted to small ball offense, and easily switchable defense. One of the most telling stats of the game was at the end of the first quarter when Bjelica had 4 shot attempts and Bam Adebayo had 1 shot attempt. But, that seems to be the case many nights.
#2: Kendrick Nunn doing his thing…but that’s about it.
A recap of Miami’s offense in the first half was Kendrick Nunn, Kendrick Nunn, and Kendrick Nunn. He scored 16 points and went 4 of 5 from deep, but the reason it stood out so much was due to the fact there wasn’t many other story-lines from the Heat that were positive. But since I’m going the positive route for a second, Nunn’s catch and shoot improvements are no joke. He shot 35% on spot-up threes last season and has shot up to 42% this season. The reasoning for that seems much more complex. It could be a slightly different role for him depending on the lineup that he is in, since he’s an on-ball guy with the starting lineup, then shifts to a Duncan Robinson lite role with the bench unit. The versatility that he currently brings offensively is one of the most underrated elements of his game.
#3: Hard to overcome non-Butler games without their bench back-court production.
As mentioned previously, the first half was a mess for the entire Heat team offensively, but one thing particularly stood out. When Butler is out, they need production from their offensive bench back-court, in Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro. Both of them came out firing, but not capitalizing, which is never a good combination with one-way players. Dragic and Herro have kind of gone back and forth with big games, and sprinkle in a game where both of them play well once in a while. The issue is that when both aren’t scoring, the surrounding pieces with Andre Iguodala and Dewayne Dedmon can’t make-up for that offense. Dragic began to get it going in the second half, while Herro shot 1 for 9 in the entire game. Obviously this bench play had nothing to do with Butler not playing, but it does show the hole this team can dig when he’s not out there to start.
#4: Oh yeah, Jimmy Butler’s pretty important.
There’s a common denominator when talking about the reasons things went wrong tonight, and they all come back to Jimmy Butler. In the big picture, this team hasn’t been able to survive many games without him, since this game puts them at 6-13 on the season when he doesn’t play. To look on the opposite side of things, that means Miami’s 33-19 when he plays, which just shows how things run so much smoother when he is on the floor. Another element to this topic is Bam Adebayo, since the shot attempts are not going to continually be harped on here, but it does relate to Butler being out. Adebayo doesn’t elevate to another role in those games, which means he’s still the play-maker at the elbow which gets exploited without a player with the downhill gravity of Butler.
#5: Prepare for a lot more of this match-up.
The reason that this game held such high importance was post-season match-up based, since if the Heat won out they’d be placed in the 4/5 bracket. This loss means that it’s likely they will see the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round with the 3/6 match-up. For starters, this indeed is not the same Bucks team, even though some seem to believe it’ll just be a reiterated version of last season. Jrue Holiday definitely makes things a lot more complicated on the defensive end, while they still have a very unique way of generating offense. Now, Butler of course changes things in this game, and especially in a playoff series with the fear he strikes when he’s the underdog opponent. Coach Spoelstra and the players don’t seem to be very worried about their playoff match-up and I actually believe that to be true. Coach Budenholzer’s same exact statement doesn’t seem to be as promising, since there’s a definitive preference among the Bucks personnel.