January was a month to forget for the Miami Heat.
They entered 2024 in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 19-13 record and it seemed plausible that they could challenge for one of the top two seeds. Instead, they only won six of their 16 games–including a seven-game losing streak towards the end of the month–and slid down the standings to seventh place.
What’s peculiar about their skid is that it practically coincided with the return of Jimmy Butler from a right toe sprain that sidelined him for practically a month. The Heat were victorious in Butler’s return against the Brooklyn Nets last January 16 where he scored 31 points, but then lost their next seven with a losing margin of over 16 points.
Butler struggled over that stretch, scoring more than 20 points in only three out of the seven defeats as it seemed like he was still trying to find his rhythm.
Miami finally snapped out of their funk with a 115-106 win over the Sacramento Kings to close January and followed it up with a 110-102 victory against the Washington Wizards. The end of this streak has, unsurprisingly, coincided with Butler’s return to form. He has now averaged 27.3 points, eight rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals, and less than one turnover over their last four outings.
This Heat team is known for peaking at the right time, as they did in last year’s postseason when they went from the play-in tournament all the way to the NBA Finals, and it would not come as a surprise if they go on a similar run this year. Last week’s acquisition of Terry Rozier in exchange of Kyle Lowry should give them a boost as his scoring and playmaking ability is something that this team has sorely lacked.
Miami’s offense has grown quite predictable as they have no consistent threats beyond the trio of Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro, so Rozier definitely fills a need for them on this side of the court.
The ability of head coach Erik Spoelstra to simultaneously manage Butler’s workload and still keep him sharp while also integrating Rozier will be important for the Heat’s fortunes this season. Adebayo, who was recently named to his third NBA All-Star team, and Herro have been as consistent as they come for Miami this season, so any upside in this team’s performance for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs will have to come from Butler and Rozier.
The Heat seem to be slowly pulling things together, but their upcoming schedule will be a test of how legitimate this recent resurgence of theirs is. Their last three games before the NBA All-Star break are against the top contenders in the East–the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers. If they can manage to win at least two of these three, it would serve as confirmation that they are indeed on the right path.
Given Butler’s history, he is likely to put on a show against these teams and put on a postseason-esque performance to remind everyone that it is too early to count out this Miami team. The Heat seem to thrive in adversity and the rough stretch that they have just endured may ultimately be the wake-up call that they needed to get this season back on track.