A somewhat roller-coaster of a contest, Miami exchanged runs with the Cade Cunningham-less Pistons for four quarters. Fortunately for the Heat, they were able to convert baskets on offense and get stops on defense late to close out Detroit and prevent another fourth quarter collapse against a rival inferior to them in overall record.
The Heat accomplished this after losing Jimmy Butler to a sprained right ankle at halftime. Miami’s leader twisted his foot while penetrating the lane in the second quarter, stayed on the floor but clearly looked hurt, and then was ruled out the rest of the way.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said the team will monitor how Butler’s ankle responds on Wednesday. It was another episode of what’s been Butler’s effort to stay healthy this season, which further emphasizes how impressive it is that Miami has stayed on top of the competitive East since the start of 2022.
Miami is a better team than Detroit and arguably should have won more convincingly, even if Jimmy got hurt, and especially because Cunningham, who’s been positioning himself in the Rookie of the Year chase, was absent.
But to win a close matchup without their best player is still a plus. Furthermore, Bam Adebayo, who was an impressive +25 in 24 minutes, was limited by foul trouble, and his back-up, Dewayne Dedmon, continued to struggle post All-Star break.
Tyler Herro, on the other hand, continues his ascension into the higher tier of premier NBA scorers with a 29-point performance on 8-of-15 shooting (4-of-8 from three, 9-of-11 from the foul line), to go with 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
It isn’t a reach to say that Herro has become Miami’s best offensive weapon, a crafty creator who can get his own shot whether by penetrating, making, pull-ups and, making plays for teammates.
Herro has a wide package when it comes to shot creation. He can beat opponents off the dribble for mid-range Js or drives, navigate pick-and-rolls to shoot, penetrate, or pass, and knock it down from deep when the defense collapses on his teammates.
Perhaps it’s Jimmy’s well-documented struggles down the stretch of games this season or the sheer fact that he hasn’t been available for a third of Miami’s matchups, but there’s a shift taking place in this team’s hierarchy of late-game options, with Herro morphing into Erik Spoelstra’s go-to guy. So far, it’s worked rather well.
In his last 10 outings Herro is averaging 25 points a game on 51% shooting from the field, 47% from downtown, and 84% from the foul stripe. He’s also grabbing 4.5 boards a contest and dishing 3.4 assists while limiting the turnovers to 2 per outing.
Given Lowry’s somewhat confusing reluctance to shoot, Bam’s sometimes lack of aggressiveness, and Butler’s unavailability, Herro is Miami’s most reliable option when games get tight.
Opposing teams are also beginning to notice it, but despite the improved defense and higher degree of shot-making difficulty, Miami’s so-called “Boy Wonder” has stepped up to the challenge.
There’s a leap taking place here and just right in time for what could be a juicy contract extension this offseason following what Heat fans hope is a playoff run that will extend until June.
That’s not to say Tyler was Miami’s sole standout. Adebayo was dominant in his limited minutes and it was in his absence when Detroit went on their rallies, including a 19-0 spurt in the third period which was the most consecutive points a Heat opponent scored this season.
Bam was a switching terror for Detroit, pulled down key boards against Isaiah Stewart late, and provided enough aggression on the other end despite some early missed bunnies. Adebayo, who is one of the Heat’s three max players, attempted 10 free throws in the win, which is usually an encouraging sign.
Max Strus also deserves his flowers. After it seemed like he wouldn’t play a minute when Victor Oladipo and Markieff Morris shared his rotation spot in the first half, Spoelstra made the wise decision to unleash Max in the third and fourth quarters, where he scored 16 points in 16 minutes, a display of his streaky behavior.
More importantly, Max’s offensive barrage kept his team afloat when Detroit threatened to extend its lead early in the final period.
Miami gets another two days off before they host Oklahoma City at home then has a number of tough matchups, assuming the opposition are healthy:
At Philadelphia, vs. Golden State, vs. New York (who’s been playing better as of late), and vs. Brooklyn (second night of a back-to-back).
How the Heat perform in this 5-game stretch will lay the groundwork of whether or not they’ll be in prime position to secure the number one seed in the conference for the playoffs or if that will be up for grabs heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
There are some elements to worry about.
How serious is Butler’s latest ankle injury and how long will Caleb Martin be out?
How does Spoelstra maneuver with the Oladipo-Morris-Vincent-Strus minutes?
Will Lowry show signs of the kind of scoring this team will ultimately need from him come playoff time?
Can Dedmon and PJ Tucker go back to the level they were playing at before the All-Star break, or should rest be prioritized for them entering the postseason?
Miami’s had a rocky regular season in terms of lineup consistency, but they’ve risen above multiple challenges. This is arguably the best Heat team since 2014. Getting past the current obstacles with the postseason so close can be good for them.
And here are two optimistic signs:
Adebayo is playing the best basketball of his career.
Herro is playing fearless.