If Miami should only have two reps for their team in Ohio, then the rightful two people are there.
Though he’s missed time, Butler has been the Heat’s best player. Spoelstra, meanwhile, has done a masterful job keeping his team above sea level and prospering despite all the line-up inconsistencies they’ve faced this season.
The Heat are 38-21, number one in the Eastern Conference when factoring in its tiebreaker against the Chicago Bulls, who have the same record.
But some might argue that Miami is “overlooked” given their lack of national media awareness compared to Eastern rivals like the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, or Philadelphia 76ers, who are constantly discussed by talk shows on major sports news provider ESPN.
Butler doesn’t necessarily agree with that notion.
“I don’t think so. We’re one in the East,” he said, almost surprised by the question of whether or not Miami is overlooked.
Butler spoke to reporters on Saturday’s media availabilities. The six-time All-Star is part of Team LeBron for Sunday’s game.
“I think people know we’re good whether they believe we can win it or not. I don’t think anybody’s skipping Miami on their schedule. I think it’s going to be a dog fight, it’s going to be a good game, whatever game we’re in, but right now, I don’t think we’re overlooked.”
If anyone shouldn’t overlook the Heat, it’s the teams that have plans to win the East.
Miami is 2-0 against Brooklyn, 2-0 against Chicago, 2-1 against Milwaukee, and 1-1 against Philadelphia. They’re 0-2 against Cleveland, although Butler didn’t play in either of those contests.
That doesn’t mean the Heat are also the conference’s clear-cut favorites. Miami isn’t flawless, which is most evident when they regularly struggle to score in half-court situations down the stretch of close games.
Only 4.5 games separate the Heat from the sixth-placed Boston Celtics in the standings.
“I feel there’s a lot of great basketball being played around the league right now, but for real, in the East, a lot of teams have surprised a lot of people with Covid and injuries and all the stuff that’s going on, [but] teams are still winning, that’s the most incredible part of it to me,” Butler explained.
Miami has also shown resiliency. Butler has missed 19 games. Adebayo has missed 25. Lowry, who was recently out due to health and safety protocol and then a personal matter, has missed 13.
Tyler Herro, Miami’s 6th Man of the Year candidate, has also missed time here and there, including the last two games before the All-Star break. Victor Oladipo hasn’t played a single minute this season, but is making progress.
Spoelstra’s ability to re-shape his team according to who’s available nightly while remaining competitive is one of his best arguments to win Coach of the Year.
Butler provided some insight into Spo’s philosophies:
“I think Spo does a good job of setting realistic goals for that time period, whether that be for a week or two weeks, and letting us know, ‘Look, this is what we need to focus on, this is where we want to get our offense, where we want to get our defense.’ After we get that he’s always throwing a curve ball in there.”
Butler added about his head coach, “He’s been doing [this] all year long and it’s putting us in position to be number one in the east and to win as many games as we have even with guys out.”
Another guy on the Heat who deserves similar credit is Lowry.
The Heat have a .680% winning percentage without Adebayo, .632% without Butler, and .615% without Lowry, who’s become their quarterback of the offense.
Though Lowry’s scoring averages and volume have gone down, his assists numbers are up, and that distribution of wealth has been integral not only to maximize the Heat’s many offensive weapons but also manifest the squad’s off-court closeness to on-court production.
“Kyle’s the one that comes in, like, ‘Jimmy, shut up, stop yelling. I got this,’” Butler said. “He can kind of mellow everything out. He does it for everybody. I yell. Bam yells. UD yells. Tuck yells. Kyle’s like, ‘Alright, guys, everybody’s yelling, everybody calm down.’”
And according to Miami’s leading scorer, it helps to have young teammates who want to improve first and foremost by listening to their veteran teammates.
Miami wouldn’t have the record it has today if not for impressive outings from vets like PJ Tucker or Dewayne Dedmon. The return of Duncan Robinson’s shooting stroke has been key, too.
The youngsters Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Omer Yurtseven, and Caleb Martin deserve as much praise.
“It’s different because these young guys really, really buy-in,” Butler said. “They listen. They want to do what you say and what the coaches say, so you tell them to do something to the best of their abilities, they’ll definitely do it – no egos, no pride.”
Here’s an example, per Jimmy:
“’Duncan, if you want to make 11 3s, by all means, we’re going to throw you the ball so you can shoot 11 and make 11.’ That’s the kind of group that we got, and we enjoy being around one another.”