The Miami Heat played their first road game of the season Thursday night in Portland, and they seemed to find their identity a bit.
The defense stepped up, and individual players such as Kyle Lowry, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, and others really made a major impact for this group.
So here are some takeaways from this one…
#1: Max Strus: the revival of the Heat’s offense.
As the same topics loomed for this Heat offense early in the game, it was clear they were going to need somebody or something to spark them. More movement? Better transition play? Or the answer could just be Max Strus. It isn’t the first time I’ve brought up the fact that Strus was the one keeping Miami’s half-court offense afloat. Staying set, pulling with no reluctance, and providing the necessary gravity from beyond the arc. Plus he’s been better defensively. rebounded well, and played better inside the arc with some increased paint touches. But frankly I don’t care about the extracurricular stuff right now. His role is to shoot, and he’s doing that at an extremely high level at the moment.
#2: Nikola Jovic minutes.
Something I stated before the game: if there was a night to play Nikola Jovic, it was this one. The reasons included the poor play from Dewayne Dedmon, not wanting Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons to torch them in drop every minute Bam isn’t on the floor, and the Trail Blazers also play a bit smaller off the bench. Well, we got a look at it. He did get a quick tip-in for his first points at the NBA level, but the energy pretty much shifted at that point in time. The lineup included Jimmy Butler and 4 shooters, which is a complete formula for success. Jovic ended up racking up 4 first half fouls, mostly since he needed to get his feet wet in defensive coverages at the 5. Simply, it isn’t easy playing in that center role on the defensive end when you aren’t accustomed to it. The only way to get him up to speed, though, is playing time and the ability to get these reps.
#3: Can Jimmy Butler get some space?
As I just hinted in the last section about Nikola Jovic, the lineup in the first half with Lowry-Herro-Strus-Butler-Jovic created an energy shift. On paper we would say, ‘well that’s not ideal defensively’ and you would be right. But I just truly believe they need to find an offensive flow by any means. Aside from that, it’s eye opening when evaluating the game of Jimmy Butler. When constantly playing next to Dedmon who plants on the weak-side box, every Butler drive down the right slot ends in two defenders flying at him around the rim. If you want to maximize Butler on that end for long periods of the regular season, the guy needs space around him. Allow him to go 1-on-1 to the basket any time you can. It feels like a clear equation to positive offense when needed, and yes, they clearly have been needing it.
#4: Kyle Lowry stepping up.
The focus of the Heat’s issues have been heavily looming over Kyle Lowry as of late. For good reason, the consistency and intention of his game hasn’t been up to the necessary standards. Yet we saw Miami lean into a much more comfortable role for Lowry in this one: off-ball dictating. If he can hit the spot-up triple consistently, it changes things. The ball can operate through Butler and Herro, consequently forcing weak-side help to peel over. And well, that’s exactly what happened tonight. The opportunities were there for him to take advantage of, and he did just that. Moving well, pulling up with confidence, and most of all, he was really engaged. When that’s the case, his impact is evident.
#5: The defense finding themselves a bit.
If the Heat scored 60 points in a game and lost, you would probably hear Erik Spoelstra after the game saying they could’ve played better defensively. It’s just the way they are wired. Yet they’ve had some issues on that end to begin the year. Is some of it the size deficiency? Yes. Is some the constant soft switching no matter the screen? Also yes. But they just need to be active and rotations must be crisp for this defense to get back to similar levels. That happened in the third quarter tonight. Jimmy Butler steam rolling for double teams, Caleb Martin being pesky on-ball, and Miami’s role players staying in the correct spots for help. When they’re gelled and connected like this, they can still be disruptive on that end of the floor.