One of the most unexpected basketball-related developments over the past few weeks is the strong play of the Miami Heat. They have now won four of their last five games and sport a 17-12 record that currently has them at fifth in the suddenly competitive Eastern Conference.
This team was expected to sputter in the absence of its injured stars Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, who have played a combined one game in the month of December. Instead, their reserves have taken turns stepping up to will this team to victory.
While “Heat Culture” has become an overused buzzword that this franchise proudly uses to praise the foundation that it is built upon, this recent run of strong play from their rag-tag roster exemplifies their mantra to a tee.
They kicked off this stretch with an impressive 113-104 win over the Milwaukee Bucks who had their complete championship-winning “Big 3” of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton. Caleb Martin was inserted into the starting line-up and sparked the Heat with 28 points, six three-pointers, eight rebounds, and three assists.
It was a career night for Martin, whom Miami scooped up in the offseason after being waived by the Charlotte Hornets. However, he quickly fell back to Earth in the aftermath of his career-best game as he entered the league’s health and safety protocols following a positive COVID-19 test.
Seemingly on cue, it was Dewayne Dedmon’s turn to have a big game in the Heat’s next outing which pitted them against the Chicago Bulls. Dedmon was matched-up with Chicago’s two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic and vastly outplayed him. The 32-year-old veteran racked up 20 points, two triples, 12 rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block, while also containing Vucevic to 10 points on three-of-15 shooting.
The Bulls, whose games this past week were postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, were still only without DeMar DeRozan during that game, and had their explosive backcourt of Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball playing, which makes Miami’s win even more impressive.
They experienced a brief roadblock in their next game, a 105-94 loss to the up-and-coming Cleveland Cavaliers, though their 36-year-old forward PJ Tucker did everything that he could to keep them in the game.
Fresh off his first NBA title with the Bucks last season, one of the newest members of the Heat churned out his best game so far with his new team as he put up 23 points, five threes, nine rebounds, five assists, and a block. Tucker is typically known for his defensive exploits, which often do not lead to healthy statlines like this one, yet he has gone beyond his regular duties in his first season with Miami and is putting up his finest numbers in years.
Up next were the Philadelphia 76ers, who suited up Joel Embiid and all of their major pieces aside from the still-on-strike Ben Simmons. It could have easily been a second consecutive loss, but Gabe Vincent erupted for 26 points, seven threes, three assists, and a block. Vincent engaged in a duel with Philadelphia’s sophomore guard Tyrese Maxey, who put up 27 points of his own, and emerged victorious as Miami escaped with a 101-96 win
Their most recent win came over their in-state rival, the rebuilding Orlando Magic. This time, it was the turn of Max Strus to pump in a career evening. Strus hit eight three-pointers and finished with 32 points together with seven rebounds off the bench. The Heat cruised to a 115-105 victory after maintaining a 10-point buffer for most of the match.
With the big numbers that the Heat’s role players have produced over the past few weeks, it is easy to overlook the man that is quietly stirring this team to victory on the court. 2019 NBA Champion Kyle Lowry, who was acquired in the offseason for this exact purpose, has provided them with stability and leadership that cannot be possibly quantified by traditional statistics.
His scoring averaged has understandably dipped this year, with his focus shifting more to playmaking, from 17.2 to 13.8 points per game, though his assists are up to 7.9 a night and his rebounds are smack at his career rate of 4.4 a contest. Over Miami’s last five games, Lowry has scored 22 points twice and recorded at least 13 assists thrice, proving that he has a lot of gas left in the tank and can still rev it up when needed.
Duncan Robinson has also slightly broken out of his season-long slump. The sharpshooter, now in his fourth year in the league, has alternated good and bad games over the past two weeks. While he still has a long way to go to return to his scintillating form from the past two seasons, the recent developments from Robinson are encouraging.
At this point in time, the wins with Adebayo and Butler sidelined are a mere consolation for the Heat. The real prize here is the swagger that the rest of their roster has gained in their absence. The system that head coach Erik Spoelstra has implemented allows them to thrive and they have taken advantage of this. In return, the Heat’s depth has been further bolstered by their renewed confidence.
This should come in handy for the come playoff time and they will be formidable contenders if their two stars can successfully recover from their injuries. What was supposed to be a rough patch has turned into a valuable experience for this team and an eventual return to the top of the standings, where they already were to begin this season, seems to be inevitable.
It seems like there is no end in sight for the barrage of “Heat Culture” anecdotes which have once again proven to be well deserved.