Last season did not go as planned for the Miami Heat in any way, shape, or form.
They were hoping to repeat their finals appearance in the NBA Bubble, but the abridged offseason instead left them injury-prone and visibly fatigued.
Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro both missed time early in the year due to injuries and despite a late charge that saw them flip a 22-24 record in late March to a 40-32 finish, the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks unceremoniously swept them out of the playoffs in the first round.
In typical Miami fashion, a rebuild was never in consideration and instead, they used the offseason to re-tool. They acquired three NBA champions in Kyle Lowry (2019 with the Toronto Raptors), Markieff Morris (2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers) and PJ Tucker (Last season with the Bucks) to bring championship experience and more importantly, double down on their team’s image as a tough, gritty, and nasty unit.
Lowry and Tucker were the real prizes here, even if they are now at an advanced age NBA-wise. These two veterans have not contributed much statistically, but were not brought in to do so. They were added to this team for their leadership and stability, the early results of which have been promising over the first six games of the season.
The Heat have raced out to a 5-1 record that has them currently tied for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Miami has played with the swagger of a powerhouse high school team hosting a severely overmatched opponent that has no business taking the floor with them.
Butler, Lowry, and Bam Adebayo have been at the forefront of this, but it has trickled down to the rest of this Heat team. Each player who checks in, all the way down to Max Strus and Dewayne Dedmon at the end of their rotation, has embraced their role and carries an unmistakable air of confidence that inevitably leads to a superior on-court product.
What makes their early returns even more impressive is that they have done it against some of the best teams in the East. Miami trashed the reigning champion Bucks in their season opener by 42 points, 137-95, then used a late rally to beat the Brooklyn Nets a week later, 108-93.
They also handled the rebuilding Orlando Magic, 107-90, though they had a slight mishap a few days earlier versus the Indiana Pacers, where they lost in overtime, 102-91.
Their most recent 114-99 win over the upstart Charlotte Hornets, the darlings of this young NBA season, was yet another resounding victory that show that this Heat team has a legitimate shot at making a run – if they stay healthy.
Miami built a 26-point lead in the second quarter and entered halftime with an 18-point advantage. The pesky Hornets battled back in the third quarter to keep the game competitive, yet the closest that they could get was within six points early in the fourth period.
Butler was brilliant once again and led the Heat with 32 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, a steal, and a block. Through the first six games of the season, his averages are now up to 25.3 points, seven rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 2.8 steals.
The 6’7 forward is making a strong case to be included in the early Most Valuable Player conversation and actually winning the award may not be far-fetched if Miami can maintain this level of play.
Adebayo was already dominant to begin with, but took it to the next level and had his best game so far this year in the win over the Hornets. The 6’9 center was a force, putting up 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, 19 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block.
Adebayo was missing from their game against the Memphis Grizzlies, but the Heat still took down a huge 129-103 victory behind Butler’s 27 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals.
Herro has also had a strong start following a sophomore slump on the heels of his breakout performance in the 2020 playoffs. He has averaged 22 points in 30 minutes off the bench and has looked like the early leader in the Sixth Man of the Year race. The 21-year-old’s dynamic shot creation gives the Heat a deadly facet that they can rely on when the rest of their team goes cold which makes them even more difficult to stop.
Although Adebayo and Herro may still be far from the prime of their careers, Butler is now 32 years old while Lowry and Tucker are closer to 40 than 30. This means that this season is nothing other than a “win-now” year for this team.
The first two weeks of the ‘21-’22 campaign have gone much better than last year’s for the Heat and if their early run proves to be sustainable, it is difficult to imagine them not contending for a slot in the NBA Finals and if the stars align, winning their first title since 2013.