They have done so with a slew of injuries and COVID-19 absences throughout the season: Bam Adebayo’s missed 25 games; Jimmy Butler’s missed 19 games; Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry have both missed 13 contests apiece, though most of Lowry’s absence was for personal reasons and not injury-related. Heat forward Markieff Morris has missed the last 49 games after the Nikola Jokic incident while guard Victor Oladipo has yet to suit up this season. Point is: We have yet to see this team at full strength.
The Heat have also seen significant contributions from Caleb Martin — who recently converted from a two-way to a standard contract — Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Omer Yurtseven, among others. Oh, and P.J. Tucker has been one of the team’s MVP’s and unsung heroes — how many thought we’d be saying that 59 games into the season? Not many, that’s for sure.
WHAT’S THE ‘BEST CASE’ SCENARIO?
What was said before the season:
The Heat’s best case scenario would have to be a return to the NBA Finals, after a surprising run just one calendar year ago. Is that a legitimate scenario in the East, now two seasons later, with an even stronger Nets, at least on paper, and the defending champion Bucks? Lots of good luck and fortune would have to go their way, but yet it did not too long ago.
That’s still the case in my view — the Heat’s best case scenario is they remain healthy, secure a top-3 seed in the Eastern Conference and punch their ticket to their second NBA Finals in three seasons. That’s much easier said than done; the former two, on the surface, are more reasonable outcomes than the latter. But given the challenges that await them in the East, navigating their way for a Conference Finals appearance will be an obstacle-and-a-half, let alone the NBA Finals. It will be no easy path — but someone has to make them, right? There’s definitely a world where Miami does — it’s unwise to doubt #HEATCulture™ — and the talent is certainly there. But the question remains: Will they make it out of the East? Time will tell.
WHAT’S THE ‘WORST CASE’ SCENARIO?
Before the season:
There has been general praise over the offseason moves that Pat Riley and the front office have made, but a pessimist may not be surprised if the moves ultimately make little difference in the standings. The Heat flaming out, either because of injuries or lack of team chemistry, and sputtering to a low seed and an early playoff exit would truly be a nightmare scenario.
Injuries to Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry or Tyler Herro would obviously lower its ceiling, but collapsing in the first round — like it did to the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks last season in arguably the franchise’s least inspiring playoff series ever — would probably be Miami’s worst case scenario, however you chalk it up. The Heat filled (most of) their cracks around the edges in the offseason while adding the top non-CP3 point guard available in free agency — helping maximize Butler and Adebayo’s ceiling and comfortability as scorers on the floor. A postseason smothering of last year’s proportion shouldn’t, in theory, happen again — but if they completely lay an egg to another formidable foe, it’ll be a bad look.
WHAT’S THE ‘MOST LIKELY’ SCENARIO?
Before the season:
This might be the first season since the departure of LeBron James and the retirements of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in which the Heat are legitimately expected to go deep in the playoffs. They simply must improve on their swift first round exit after getting swept by the eventual champs.
With how Miami’s played through 59 games, given the circumstances, it’s hard not to trust them to win at least one playoff series. But the same could honestly be said about any one of the other top-six seeds — Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Boston — throughout the East. I’d be remiss to mention Toronto and Brooklyn, who both could definitely ravage your postseason hopes if you’re not careful, but I digress. The Heat have legitimate championship aspirations, but the playoffs in the East will be a bloodbath — to put it lightly. None of these teams have separated themselves from the pack yet, so what Miami does down the stretch will be important. But I still believe the Heat will capture a top-3 seed and win at least one playoff series, but again, it’s much easier said than done.
WHY ARE YOU STILL EXCITED FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON?
Before the season:
Seeing how Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo adjust to playing with Kyle Lowry, a legit All-Star caliber point guard with championship experience, who can relieve them of their offensive limitations while complimenting their imposing defense. Lowry could also help younger players like Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson take another leap forward.
The return of Victor Oladipo and witnessing how he fits alongside the Lowry-Butler-Adebayo triumvirate. Oladipo played just four games with Miami in 2020-21 before re-injuring his quad in the fourth quarter against the Lakers on April 8th — a game in which he had 18 points in 25 minutes! — ending his season and prompting his second quad surgery in two years.
As mentioned recently on the site in a piece about Oladipo’s return, he’s lumped in the fun and semi-rare sub-category of “a trade deadline acquisition that wasn’t actually a trade acquisition”, but as an ancillary player that just returns from injury around the deadline. Adding his All-Defensive pedigree and versatility alongside the Lowry-Butler-PJ Tucker-Adebayo quartet — that’s sported a 13.8 NET Rating, including a commanding 95.3 defensive rating in 348 minutes (21 games) together — will be nothing short of a nightmare for opponents. On a related note, I’m want to see more of the Lowry-Herro-Butler-Adebayo foursome together for an extended period of time, provided they’re all healthy (knock on wood). They’ve only appeared in 14 games (!) together and are 10-4 in those games. But when they’ve been on the floor together, there has still plenty left to be desired (-12.7 NET RTG) — and that’s partly because of their lack of chemistry together! Someone stop playing with all the Heat voodoo dolls, please!
Before the season: