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What are Heat’s strengths and weaknesses heading into NBA restart?

With the NBA returning to action, let’s take a step back and assess the current state of the Heat.

It has been 133 days since the 2019-2020 Miami Heat played in a competitive NBA basketball game. Though they return to action tonight in a scrimmage, by the time they tip-off against the Denver Nuggets on August 1 in Orlando to officially begin the NBA restart it will be 143 days. With that day drawing closer and closer, now seems like the perfect time to preview what the rest of the season could look like for Erik Spoelstra’s team.

Before the preview, I thought it would be appropriate to give a brief refresher of where the Heat left off before the season was suspended due to Covid-19.

At the time of the suspension, the Heat held the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference at 41-24 and were considered to be serious contenders to come out of the East. This record left the Heat 12 games back of the first-place Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) and 2.5 games behind the third seed Boston Celtics (43-21).

Although their record implies that they were riding high leading up to the shutdown, the reality is that the team was just 7-9 in the 16 games before the suspension.

However, that struggle can be contributed to injuries to several key players such as rookie Tyler Herro - who was averaging 12.9 points and 4 rebounds per game coming off the bench - and Meyers Leonard, one of the better shooters on the team connecting on 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts.

Both Herro and Leonard had ankle injuries that ailed them during those 16 games with Leonard missing all 16 and Herro sitting out all but the last game. With both players now seemingly back to full strength, it will be interesting if their return will help the Heat regain their form from earlier in the season that at one point earned them the second seed in the East.

Now, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the factors that could influence the level of success that the Heat will have while in Orlando.

Tough Schedule

To say that the Heat’s schedule for the final eight games of the “regular season” is challenging would be an understatement, they have the fourth most difficult schedule of all the teams playing in the restart.

The only team on Miami’s schedule that is not a top 5 seed in their respective conference is the Phoenix Suns, who will most likely miss out on the playoffs.

Although the Heat will not have to worry about the possibility of missing the playoffs, the team still have to concern themselves with the possibility of falling to a lower seed while navigating a tough slate of games.

This is especially concerning when considering that there is not a whole lot that separates the three seed from the six seed in the Eastern Conference. While the Heat are only 2.5 games behind the Celtics, they are only just two games ahead of the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers who are in the five and six seed respectively. To make things even more difficult, the 76ers have one of the easiest schedules in the restart and Indiana is not far behind them. So even though the Heat are favored to remain in the four seed once the eight-game stretch is over, according to The Ringer, they could just as easily fall to the six seed, which would not be terrible since it would keep them on the opposite side of the bracket from Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

The good news is that Miami has been successful against the teams that they are set to face. Miami has an 8-3 combined record against the opponents on their remaining schedule including a sweep of Indiana, who they will face twice, Milwaukee and Toronto who are the top two East seeds respectively.

The bad news is that this schedule would have already been a tough ask for the Heat when the team is at full strength, which is not their current situation with the status of two key starters up in the air.

New Returnees

Although Herro and Leonard are once again healthy and practicing with the team, there are still two key players who have just recently joined the team in Orlando.

Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn have been instrumental to the team’s success this season, but they only returned to the team on Tuesday afternoon. Both of these players will have a huge role to play if the Heat have any hope of making a championship run.

Adebayo, who is one of the leading candidates to win Most Improved Player, is perhaps the most important member on the roster outside of Jimmy Butler. The big man is having a breakout season averaging 16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game this season while also playing in his first All-Star game.

Nunn has been one of the standouts in the rookie class and has been in the discussion for Rookie of the Year having won Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors three times this year. He took over the starting point guard position early in the season and hasn’t looked back since averaging the second-most points among all rookies at 15.6 points per game - he only trails Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant.

The reason that these players’ new arrivals can be so impactful to the rest of the Heat’s season is that it could potentially affect how many minutes they can play during the team’s eight-game stretch before the playoffs, which is extremely difficult as previously mentioned. This possible lack of minutes could be due to a lack of practice, conditioning or a lack of five on five rhythm that other teammates have been gaining over the last couple weeks.

Adebayo would leave a particularly large void as he has played the most minutes out of anyone on the team this year. Bam has played 2,235 minutes which is 286 more than the next closest player on the list, Duncan Robinson. Spoelstra can try to recreate Adebayo in the aggregate but as good as Kelly Olynyk and Leonard have played at times this year they are just not capable of doing all the things that Bam can do.

Nunn has also played a high volume of minutes, 1,846, good for fourth on the team.

While it may be a bit difficult to possibly have to cut down Adebayo’s and Nunn’s minutes at first, if they can get back up to speed by the time the playoffs come around, the Heat can be in for a deep playoff run.

Don’t Expect Many Differences

While some teams have taken the weeks leading up to the restart to work out new tactics to utilize for the rest of the season (such as the 76ers’ plan to play Ben Simmons at power forward) Spoelstra plans to do no such thing.

According to an article by Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel, Spoelstra talked about the need to stick to the way that his team has played throughout the season.

“We know how we want to play. We know what we stand for. We know what our most important principles are, on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not like a typical training camp, where you’re introducing yourself to each other. We already went through that.”

Spoelstra would be right to not want to change any tactics during the restart, the Heat had success throughout the regular season by being a tough defensive team with great three-point shooting.

Miami has had the best three-point shooting percentage in the league this year at 38.3%, the 2017-2018 team shot at the same clip. As a matter of fact, over the last five seasons, four out of the five teams to lead in the league in three-point shooting percentage made it to the finals with three of them winning the finals.

Considering how well the Heat have played thus far, Spoelstra deciding to stick with his tactic might help his team to continue that tradition and make a run for a championship.