Since the COVID-19 Omicron variant has laid waste across the NBA, teams have been scrambling to sign players to fulfill the league’s requirement of eight players in uniform, all while shoring up depth and ensuring minimal damage to their playoff hopes.
Amidst the disruptions, the Miami Heat have fared well compared to other teams due in large part to how they built their roster.
True, Bam Adebayo is the longest tenured member of the Heat not named Udonis Haslem and the likes of Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry were acquired via free agency and trade, respectively, but Miami’s moves to support their marquee players and fill out the roster, more so in recent years, have been a major boost for them.
Butler recently returned in the 93-83 win over the Orlando Magic after missing 12 of the last 13 games due to a tailbone injury, but the Heat’s third straight victory came at the hands of the guys who have held the fort.
Omer Yurtseven, Gabe Vincent, and Max Strus, all of whom were biding their time in the G-League before Miami picked them up as free agents, each scored in double figures. The three helped the Heat overcome an early deficit and offset the inconsistencies of Duncan Robinson and the ejection of Tyler Herro with 29.2 seconds left in the third quarter. Overall, the 28 assists Miami finished with proved that they took down the Magic by committee, helping one another find open shots.
Yurtseven, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds in his first NBA start, has made the most of his opportunities even in limited minutes. In fact, as both Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon have been out, he has finished with no less than 12 rebounds in his last five games. The Turkish big man remains a developmental piece that Miami likely has plans for in the future but given his strong performances in the 2021 Summer League and in parts of the regular season, maybe that time is now.
That Strus and Vincent finished with 13 points each may have been a welcome sight for Orlando, as both got their respective career-highs against the Magic back in December 17. Strus, who had previously lit up Orlando for 32 points, picks his spots well and knows when to set screens to get his teammates good looks or draw the defense away and make them pay with a 3-pointer.
Vincent, who had 27 points the last time he faced the Magic, has also benefited from the extra minutes and touches, finishing in double figures in six of his last seven games. Apart from the scoring, he also had a game-high eight assists in this contest, taking up the playmaking duties left behind by Kyle Lowry.
A different guy stepping up for the Heat has so far been a common theme that even Haslem, who has been seldomly used and serves as more of a “playing” assistant coach, played in three consecutive games for the first time in four years. His statistical contributions aside, he has been able to exploit the advantages presented to him, albeit in limited minutes, and even at 41 he remains as tough as ever.
Credit also belongs to Erik Spoelstra and the rest of the Miami coaching staff as they have been able to adjust their offense to the available personnel. Yurtseven, Vincent, Strus, and Haslem connected on a number of plays and the chemistry was evident especially since they were the Heat’s mainstays over the last few games.
With more than a handful of lineup changes, Spoelstra and his staff rightly deserve praise for maintaining the defensive intensity that has made Miami a top-5 team in the NBA in points allowed, opponents’ field goal attempts, and opponents’ field goal percentage.
Having Butler and even Caleb Martin back at this point in time not only allows them to have more depth, but it also gives them time to prepare for a crucial stretch in the season as the calendar turns to 2022. Three of the Heat’s next four games will be against teams below .500, with the Washington Wizards currently at 17-16. In January, two of their early games will be against the Western Conference’s best in the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns, with games against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks afterward.
In the same vein that addressing COVID-19 as a medical concern required a concerted effort, the Miami Heat have been all hands on deck in the latest outbreak within the NBA. How they’ve managed to remain within striking distance of the top seed in the Eastern Conference is a success at this point, and the challenge now is on sustaining the momentum when they get everyone back.