The Miami Heat ended the season winning 6 of their final 7 games, and only dropping their final one to the Orlando Magic while resting half their roster. Their recent win streak helped many forget some of the problems and issues they were facing before that.
And now, they are entering the 2022 NBA Playoffs as the #1 seed in the East. Things are absolutely trending in the right direction and there is great mojo around the team. In fact, we learned that many of the players took a bonding trip to the Bahamas for a few days before coming back to practice this week.
On top of that, the Heat were pleased to see the conference bracket work out in their favor in about the best way possible considering how everything was trending. The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Brooklyn Nets all landed on the opposite side of the bracket — meaning the Heat would only see one of that trio in a potential conference final.
But there’s been a lot of talk about that — and while it is good to see those teams on the other side, that doesn’t mean the Heat won’t have to work hard, really hard, to get there. We don’t know the first-round opponent yet, but even a second-round opponent of the Toronto Raptors or Philadelphia 76ers will be a tough matchup.
That’s why I think it is important to remember this team will have to earn their way — nothing will likely be easy moving forward. There are concerns around this team. Let’s take a look at three of the biggest concerns the Heat should have heading into the playoffs.
#1 — Closing time
The Heat’s biggest issue throughout the season has been their predictability in clutch moments. They’ve had their moments where they have done well here, but there have been plenty of times where they have relinquished leads and given teams the ability to close the gap on them because of their offense.
When the Heat have been bad, they stop running an offense and turn into a team they are not. They are not a give the ball to someone and let him make a play type of team. When their clutch go-to is a Jimmy iso, then the Heat haven’t been good. In fact, as much as we trust Jimmy Butler to do right, it’s not as a one v one player with a clock winding down.
Miami has worked better when Kyle Lowry has the ball in his hands or at least directing the Heat in these moments. Tyler Herro has done well also, but none of it is iso — and iso is predictable. Contrary to most NBA Playoff games, the final 5 minutes do not need to be iso-driven basketball. One of the Heat’s biggest concerns is going to be what they do and who they are as the game winds down.
#2 — Hunting
In all fairness, the Heat do plenty of this as well, especially Jimmy Butler. But one of Miami’s biggest concerns is going to always been the matchup hunting that opponents will do against their inferior defenders: Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro.
There are two ways this becomes a primary concern for Miami. The first is that teams know that Miami is a switching team. They will switch 99% of actions, even when it isn’t necessary. That means that even if the offense hasn’t yielded a shot in the first 16 seconds of a shot clock, a simple screen with Strus will create a mismatch of their choice to get a better quality shot. Miami nearly always has one of those players on the floor.
Their individual defense has improved (i.e. Strus in Boston), but against superior offensively talented players, it’s hard to be good more times than not. We haven’t really seen the death defensive lineup of Miami: Lowry, Oladipo, Butler, Tucker, and Adebayo — mostly because of the offensive spacing that is sacrificed for that. But they may need to experiment with it at some point.
I think Miami needs to guard against the hunting of their players and be able to send timely double teams to cause problems. It’s a concern.
#3 — Deep Ball Reversal
Here’s a fun stat: the Miami Heat led the NBA in 3-point % shooting as a team (37.9%). They also led the NBA in defensive 3-point % shooting as a team (33.9%). The difference between what the Heat are able to provide with their elite 3-point shooters and their defensive tactic of limiting paint points and forcing contested threes has worked.
But there have been a handful of games where this has reversed on them — a team gets hot from deep and Miami has no chance because their defense is designed to give up the three as opposed to paint points. So when a team is just cooking, they can get cooking pretty good against Miami. This is a fear of mine in a playoff game or two.
And we have also seen what happens when Strus, Robinson, and Herro all collectively have rough shooting nights — the Heat struggle. They can’t afford all of their outside shooters to be cold. Miami does rely on 3-point shooting to sustain their offense. When the guys are hitting, there’s nothing like it.
What are your concerns for the Heat heading into the playoffs?