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The Heat had a tough season, Ariza and Dedmon helped turn it around

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Jimmy Butler’s absences hurt Miami early in the season, but two additions plugged key holes.

Philadelphia 76ers v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Back on September 22, 2020 — in the midst of the playoffs in the Bubble — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said his “best guess” was for the 2020-21 season to start in January. November 2, though, Silver emphasized the urgency of starting the season before Dec. 25 to “salvage hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue” on a call with the league’s general managers.

Looking back at the 2020-21 Miami Heat season, that shift from Sept. 22 to Nov. 2 stands out. The Heat lost Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals Oct. 11. A little more than two months later, the next season resumed.

It also didn’t help that Jimmy Butler sprained his right ankle in the season opener Dec. 23. He missed the second half of Miami’s Dec. 25 win over the New Orleans Pelicans and then sat out the Heat’s next two games against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Butler played in a Jan. 1 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, but had his worst game of the season. He didn’t even make a field goal. Less than two weeks later, following a win over the Washington Wizards, eight Heat players entered the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Butler missed the next 10 games. When he returned, the Heat were just 6-12 on the season.

The NBA’s quick turnaround and Butler’s early absences put the Heat in an unenviable position. They also magnified the mistakes the team made in the off-season — signing Moe Harkless while letting Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. walk in free agency. Add in some regression from Goran Dragic, growing pains from Tyler Herro, injuries to Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk’s 3-point shooting dipping from 41 percent last year to 32 percent, and you have a team that was in trouble.

It’s why I wrote in February that the Heat needed a major shake-up. And Miami’s midseason transactions made a huge difference. Meyers Leonard was already out for the season when he uttered an anti-Semitic slur. Miami then traded Leonard for Trevor Ariza, who immediately filled a need as the starting power forward.

And Miami’s signing of Dewayne Dedmon actually surpassed either of the Heat’s deadline day moves — Chris Silva and Harkless for Nemaja Bjelica and Olynyk, Bradley and a 2022 pick swap for Victor Oladipo — in impact. Oladipo suffered a season-ending injury after just four games with the Heat, but Dedmon offered rebounding and finishing as Bam Adebayo’s backup.

It’s not hyperbole to compare the Dedmon signing to midseason pickups of Alonzo Mourning in 2005 and Chris Andersen in 2013. He’s been that good.

The Heat now enter the playoffs as the sixth seed, slated to face either the Milwaukee Bucks or Brooklyn Nets. Of course, a match-up in the first round against either the New York Knicks or the Atlanta Hawks would’ve been preferable. The Heat players have a plethora of losses to bad or injury-depleted teams to lament. But they at least avoided the dreaded play-in tournament — a fear that started percolating after the Miami’s stumbles out of the gate and didn’t dissipate until last week.

The late December start to the season and Butler’s early battles with injuries and COVID made this a tough year. But the Heat’s shrewd moves for Ariza and Dedmon plugged gaping holes and lifted Miami to a guaranteed playoff spot.