The Miami Heat beat the Washington Wizards on Friday night, in what felt like a must win game. A strong Kendrick Nunn performance, once granted the opportunity, was promising for his role moving forward. Well, here are five takeaways from the game….
#1: Bam Adebayo getting to a familiar spot on the floor: The free throw line.
The first thing that stood out tonight for Miami was the franchise centerpiece, Bam Adebayo, getting to the free throw at an absolute incredible rate. He went 11 for 11 from the line in the first quarter, and I’m not sure if making 11 straight free throws, or getting fouled that many times is more impressive. Drawing that many fouls alludes to a certain level of offensive aggression, which was needed from their stars on a night that was essentially a must win. 19 first half points on only 4 shot makes truly shows where his mind was with the ball in his hands. Of course it’s great to look at this from an individual perspective, but it’s necessary to look into the near future a bit. If Adebayo can continue to make this a part of his consistent offensive package, things not only change for him, but for this team.
#2: Kendrick Nunn gets an opportunity, Kendrick Nunn capitalizes.
Avery Bradley will be out for approximately a month after the recent injury, which ultimately means more Kendrick Nunn minutes. When looking back at the recent stretch where Nunn stepped in, he was one of Miami’s most consistent players surprisingly, but somehow ended up being the odd man out again. But tonight, he officially looked like the guy who finished second in rookie of the year voting a year ago. Nunn scoring 15 first half points on 75% shooting gives an idea of how his night was, but the continued question will be if he can sustain it for a long period. And well, the only way to answer that question is to give him an opportunity for a long stretch, which he will have over the next few weeks. Miami adding a straight up scorer into the rotation may be the immediate fix at the moment, and can help them string together some wins.
#3: Jimmy Butler playing with a purpose, as seen through his body language and facial expressions.
One thing that was noticed about Jimmy Butler out the gate was his level of intensity he was bringing, by his body language and facial expressions alone. He seemed to know exactly what he was going to do in that first quarter, which is give Miami as big of a lead as possible before exiting. And the main goal from there was about keeping their foot on the gas pedal, which is exactly what they did to close the half. Some nights I discuss the necessity of Jimmy Butler stepping up offensively to be the superstar he is, but tonight his superstar leadership levels were more important. The players can bounce off of that fairly easily, especially since guys have been talking about the need to play for each other. Butler setting the tone early in the game says a lot about the footprint he looks to put on this team game by game.
#4: A Kelly Olynyk third quarter confidence booster.
I’m pretty sure everybody is aware of the roller coaster of Kelly Olynyk. You see the high of highs and you see the low of lows. The thing about his peak levels is that they’re generated or sparked by a specific moment. And well, after Miami held a trusted lead in the third quarter, he began to get his shot going, and that may be all he needed for this next stretch. When Olynyk plays with a lead, he always seems to play at a different level, which could have something to do with a bit less pressure to get shots up. Either way, this specific moment in the game may not seem to hold much value, but there’s a possibility it does in the grand scheme of things. And only time will tell if that quarter can be sustainable for Olynyk over larger minutes.
#5: The starting lineup changes, but could it change again?
Now, I definitely didn’t expect bringing this up as a possibility tonight, but here we are. Tyler Herro looked very good tonight in the sixth man role, mostly since he knows his role is to just score the basketball without an immense amount of worry as a point guard. Goran Dragic started in his place, and although he looked good, it’s just not sustainable for a 34 year old to get an increase in minutes this early in the season. But after the Kendrick Nunn performance we saw yet again tonight, could he find his way into a starting position? I mean, it would allow Dragic and Herro to direct the second unit as they did last season while Nunn can be granted a scoring role for the starters which could be a huge boost. Although I believe Herro will be back in the starting lineup, it’s something to evaluate as a possibility for the near future.