The Miami Heat were as short handed as it gets on Wednesday night, as Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler were out. Ultimately, they just couldn’t keep up, leading to a rough start to the non-Bam stretch.
So, here are some takeaways from this one…
#1: A very different match-up for Tyler Herro out the gate.
Tyler Herro has seen many different match-ups and defensive schemes throughout this season. Best individual defenders, immediate traps/doubles, and quick tags when he drives. But tonight’s big man match-up was different. Very different. Isaac Okoro was guarding Duncan Robinson out the gate, which was quite the choice. That meant Lauri Markkanen was guarding Herro, which meant a change in the approach. He was basically forced to attack the basket in some capacity, then mix in some quick dribble moves in the process. He did that for moments. 15 first half points didn’t come as easy as they usually do, but he still got it done at a high level. Which is all that matters on nights without Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
#2: Max Strus providing a much needed element.
Three-point shooting always seems to be below 25% at the end of first quarters, and a 1 for 9 start quickly followed tonight. They just need it from one specific guy, in the way they always would count on Duncan Robinson for that spark. But things just haven’t been the same. Max Strus has taken it upon himself to be that new elite sniper who isn’t one bit afraid to shoot the basketball, and that’s really all that is needed. He gave them a big offensive spark in the first half, yet they still trailed by 18. On the bright side, these current/previous two-ways have really done their job so far this season. Gabe Vincent has turned around the shooting, Caleb Martin is everywhere in his minutes, and Strus continues to be elite at his one specific skill. This team needs consistency right now, and at least those guys provide it.
#3: KZ Okpala minutes?
It almost felt like Miami was once again going to stay strictly in that 8 man rotation, since it took them until the second quarter to expand it to 9. Who was that guy? KZ Okpala. Surprisingly, he provided something that was missing, and really plugged some holes in the front-court. One play described his development: the shot-clock was expiring, a kick-out leaves him with the ball in his hands on the wing. He pauses, the defenders jump out, and he swings to Herro for a three as time expired. A previous Okpala wouldn’t have paused. I’m not saying anything big picture, but he did provide some early competent minutes in that back-up big role, and they will be calling for that a lot over the next stretch.
#4: An unusual defensive night in many ways.
The expanding Cleveland Cavaliers lead in this one wasn’t just a poor defensive outing from Miami in my opinion. They had a strong 2-3 zone base early on that really threw them off many possessions, and the communication allowed them to recover smoothly within that coverage. The thing about that is the Cavs team shot the ball at just an incredible rate. At one point in the third, when the lead was at a very high point, they were shooting 58% from the field and 50% from three. Just a very unusual recipe. I guess that’s just the version of this team with no Butler and Adebayo, and more Herro-Robinson lineups, but it’s still something to keep track of. In many ways, Cleveland took advantage of favorable match-ups in a fashion that Miami just didn’t on the other end.
#5: No Butler. No Adebayo. No Robinson.
I don’t want to make this a locked in takeaway every single night, but it’s basically necessary when recapping a game like this. The Heat were without Butler and Adebayo tonight for obvious reasons, but Robinson seemed to find a way for a drop-off from his previous poor outing against Denver. Missed open shots continue to be the primary observation, while minor tweaks can be pulled away from his play through body language. It clearly happens when going through a slump of this capacity, but his body structure before these open looks prohibit them from going in even more. I’m going to keep drilling that it’s mental, but it’s going to be more than that if this prolongs over this injured Heat stretch of games.
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