The Miami Heat got a very impressive win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night to begin the road trip. It wasn’t pretty, since they struggled in the first half, and had trouble closing it out late in the fourth, but a win is a win at this point. Anyway, here are five takeaways….
#1: Well, Miami clearly loves the three point line.
Instead of going through different Miami Heat issues once again, let’s just take a look at one: shot-making. After three triples from Duncan Robinson to begin the game, Miami went cold. Real cold. And the only way to overcome tough shooting stretches is to get to the basket, but only Jimmy Butler seemed to realize that, and it even took him some time to do. They were 9 for 25 from beyond the arc in the first half, which proved the continued mindset to chuck up threes throughout. Kendrick Nunn, who I will discuss later, began to realize the need to attack the basket during these stretches. The most important part of the game for Miami was to survive the non-Butler minutes, and they did somehow hold it to a single digit game. And of course, the penetration resumed upon him entering.
#2: Jimmy Butler, the continued glue through tough patches.
Now, if there was phrase to describe Miami’s first half, it would be a tough patch. And there’s not a better player to have on your team to overcome tough stretches than Jimmy Butler. His continued ability to control the pace of the game, even when trailing, kept Miami in the game early on. On a night where Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro were out, it was known Butler would have even more on his plate, especially with the way Bam Adebayo was getting fronted. The point is that he can glue together certain units, even when they include guys who would probably be in the G-League right now in a normal season. It’s not just about getting to the free throw line 7 times in the first half, but the amount of times he got players open shots throughout. But as explained before, those shots just weren’t falling early on.
#3: Kendrick Nunn still finding himself as a player.
It’s clear that Kendrick Nunn is still finding himself as a player, since there are certain parts of his offensive game that are still growing. He’s shown to be an improving catch and shoot guy over the past few guys, but that definitely wasn’t the case tonight. But the important part about this game was seeing how he reacts to the continued offensive struggles. This led to him finding other ways to impact the game in the second quarter, such as being active on the glass, cutting off the ball for easy layups, and most importantly, taking guys off the dribble. This is the type of game where a player like him can find a real breakthrough. He’s only in his second NBA season, and has yet to figure himself out as a player. But when that day comes, it will lead to overall consistency, which is the one thing that has some questions at this point in his career.
#4: A Duncan Robinson shooting bounce back.
The reason I labeled this Duncan Robinson game as a shooting bounce back, is because through his past “struggles,” he’s been elite in every other usual part of his game. Offensive gravity, off-ball screen setting, perimeter movement. The only difference is that the shots were actually falling tonight, which as I explained after last game, wasn’t going to be long. As mentioned earlier, he knocked down three triples to begin the game to score Miami’s first 9 points. He continued that into the second half as well, since he hit some big shots to slowly expand the lead in the third quarter. And Coach Spo may have found something interesting, after he inserted Max Strus in with Robinson, and the lineup was very effective. The recent perception of Robinson has been a bit different as of late, but as he continues to adjust to the different coverages being thrown at him every night, he will begin to thrive as much as ever.
#5: A four game winning streak, a win to begin the road trip, and great momentum as players will begin to return.
Well, this Miami Heat win may not have been pretty, but it holds more value than you may think. It’s the longest winning streak of the season for Miami, and it came at a necessary time, since it’s the first game of Miami’s tough West Coast road trip. But that aside, they scrapped their way through a game without Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro, which put even more weight on the starters. The key is that they’re beginning to find themselves as a team, or as the players like to say, they’re beginning to play for one another. Erik Spoelstra always discusses the need to find a true identity, and the current identity seems to be no matter the numbers on the scoreboard, it’s going to be a game that they’re going to battle and scrap their way through. And when the leading dog on the team is Jimmy Butler, that identity matches up perfectly.