Miami Heat turns up the temperature, ties for first place in the East

Jimmy Butler leading a new look Heat team to a good start (Photo by All-Pro Reels via Flickr)

Following a disappointing playoff sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks last season, the Heat made a splash in free agency, bringing in players including six-time NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker, a member of the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.

To start the season, a familiar foe awaited the Heat: the Milwaukee Bucks. The team made this a statement game to usher in a new era with a revamped roster, thrashing the Bucks 137-95.

Since that win, Miami has continued the momentum, currently sitting at 11-5. The disappointment of last season has been left in the past by players and the fans alike. Last night the team beat the Washington Wizards 112-97 to gain a tie for first place in the East.
To fix the roster, general manager Pat Riley set out to find players who fit with the Heat’s culture — players who play hard on both ends of the floor and give their all. This mentality has been rewarding so far, as the Heat has shown themselves to be a tenacious defensive team and has improved the offense. How exactly has their defense improved?

The team isn’t caught easily on pick and rolls. Instant switches when a screen is set don’t allow much space for the ball handler. Off-the-ball players provide help defense by coming off the weak side to help with the transition into the switch. If helpers arrive before the assigned switch, the team rotates to cut off the three-point shot or force a tough shot inside the arc.

The Heat has used this approach in the past but is better equipped to succeed with Lowry, Tucker, Butler, and Bam Adebayo guarding multiple positions.

Lowry is a tenacious defensive point guard, something the Heat has lacked for the past decade.

The players have acclimated to this defensive style, and the team has benefitted from it, with their defensive stats all improved from last season, as you can see below.

The Heat has transformed from one of the worst rebounding teams last season to one of the best, grabbing more rebounds and allowing fewer second-chance opportunities. They also boast an excellent defensive rating.

On the offensive end, Lowry’s impact cannot be understated. He is a player who looks to create shots for others before himself, something the Heat has lacked for years. His style has made it easier for Butler and Adebayo to focus on scoring and avoid the burden of being ball handlers and facilitators. Butler is shooting at a career-best field goal percentage of 53%.

Lowry has also increased the offense’s tempo, pushing the pace and allowing other players to find themselves in good positions to score.

Here you can see off a rebound, the point guard, Kyle Lowry, immediately pushes the ball to the player leaking out in transition. He then has a one-on-one matchup with his defender while the rest of the team struggles to get the defense set with no help.

With Lowry’s addition, Butler has upped his game. He is currently averaging career highs in usage rate and player efficiency rating. For the first time in his Heat career, he is not burdened with being a primary ball-handler, and the focus on scoring is clear and is paying dividends for Butler.

Another player who is showing his impact is Tyler Herro. With his first full off-season under his belt. Herro is averaging over 20 points per game for the first time in his career while also averaging his highest ever field goal percentage.

Many Heat fans took notice of Herro’s potential from the moment he took the floor, but many wrote him off last season, but he is determined to prove himself. He is currently a leading contender for both the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player awards and has made it known he wants to win the former.

Heat fans have taken notice of Herro’s improvement and are excited for what he has to offer for the rest of the year.

While the players on the court are meshing, the Heat still has one piece missing: Victor Oladipo.

The team re-signed the two-time NBA all-star following a season-ending injury last year, and he has yet to take the floor for the Heat. If he can get on the floor and stay healthy, he gives the team another weapon on both ends of the floor.

While the Miami fanbase has bought into the team, they will still be demanding results come playoff time, something the team failed to deliver last season. The regular season should serve as an important prelude to a potential playoff run.

“I actually think they are built more for the postseason than the regular season. The challenge now is to arrive there with a competitive seed,” claims Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

The Heat needs to keep the foot on the gas to arrive in the playoffs with the tools to make a run at a title. A championship ring has eluded Butler so far in his career, but he and the rest of the team seem determined to change that and bring the Heat its fourth title.

Michael Morales is an FIU student majoring in journalism. He has an immense passion for sports and aspires to be a sports writer and podcast host.