So. It’s been 15 games this season and many would call what the Miami Heat are doing a pleasant surprise. People around the team aren’t shocked, and fans who’ve paid close attention to the squad aren’t either. But…
Last Saturday, Philadelphia humbled the Heat. The 76ers battered and bullied Miami en route to a 113-86 win that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests.
Some fans immediately reacted to the disappointing performance by saying the Heat aren’t ready to compete with the East elite. I’m here to preach caution and argue a slightly different points.
Sure, the Heat weren’t ready on Saturday, and they might not be ready just yet, but I think, in time, they will be.
Conclusion No. 1: Philadelphia presents a unique challenge to any team, beyond just the Heat.
The 76ers sport the league’s biggest and longest starting five. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson tower over every other group in the NBA. Those five were a plus-23 versus the Heat on Saturday.
Saturday night’s drubbing featured a season-high point total (32) from former Heat “Rook 2” Josh Richardson. He’s only had one game with more points than that in his career (37).
Richardson, Harris and Horford combined to shoot 25-of-35 from the field, including 9-of-13 from three. That won’t happen most nights.
Couple that with the fact that Heat newbies Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson struggled from the field (3-of-16 combined, 0-7 combined from three), and that sets the path for the blowout.
Philadelphia had a solid game plan in place for the Heat. They short-circuited Miami’s movement by sagging off Bam Adebayo’s initiating the offense from the elbow. That clogged cutting space and tightened passing windows considerably.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra will adjust to that defense.
Conclusion No. 2: It was as close to a scheduled loss as you can make in the NBA.
Three of Miami’s four losses this season have come on the second night of a back-to-back. Their only other loss came after flying West to face the Nuggets in Denver.
According to databasebasketball.com, teams win around just 43 percent of games on the second night of a back-to-back. On those second nights, the Heat have had their worst shooting nights, which isn’t a surprise considering the travel, fatigue and the opponents.
Despite the losses, Miami maintains its spot among the league’s elites in certain categories. The Heat are No. 5 in Defensive Rating (102.5; better than Philadelphia) No. 7 in Net Rating (5.7; better than Philadelphia), and No. 7 in Point Differential (plus-6.1, better than Philadelphia).
They’ve dominated the dregs of the league. They’re unbeaten at home (6-0) and unbeaten versus sub-.500 teams (5-0). Both of those statements are not things you could have said about the Miami Heat in the past. Last season, the Heat were 19-22 at home and only 21-15 versus sub .500 teams.
Conclusion No. 3: Relying on the jump-shot is notoriously risky in this league.
Even with the terrible shooting night in Philadelphia, the Heat are still No. 3 in the league in 3-point percentage (38.6 percent) and No. 3 in Field Goal percentage (47.8 percent).
That said, relying on the jumper to consistently fall has been the downfall of many a team. Particularly one with young and/or inexperienced players like the Heat.
According to Second Spectrum, the Heat shot 29% (12/42) on uncontested field goal attempts Saturday vs Sixers
Jimmy – 2/10
Duncan – 0/5
Just a brutal night for what had been the best jump shooting team in the league coming into the game
— Christian Hernandez (@ICanBeYourHerro) November 25, 2019
Miami is counting on rookies, undrafted free agents and G-leaguers in the early going of the season. The mettle of these players are tested in games like the one last Saturday.
Although Nunn and Robinson struggled mightily versus the 76ers, it’s a great sign that Tyler Herro did not. Herro lead the Heat with 20 points, hitting 4-of-9 from deep and finishing a plus-1 overall. Herro’s development is critical for this team’s future success.
All in all, the Heat should be counted among the elites of the Eastern conference because they’ve played like an elite team here early on. Sure, Saturday’s loss in Philadelphia was bad, but the win in Milwaukee without Jimmy Butler coming back from a 20-point deficit was great. Throttling the Rockets at home was great.
It’s still a little too early to tell where exactly this team will finish, but I’m confident saying it’ll be in the upper half of the East, vying for the 2- or 3-seed.
This is a gritty, unselfish team that moves the ball and moves well without the ball.
“We have a more dynamic offense now,” said Bam Adebayo recently.
Yes, the turnovers are a glaring issue (19.1 per-game, most in the league), but as this group settles in, they should get that under control.
They were overmatched by Philly in Philly last Saturday, but the next game is in Miami. And the playoffs are a long way away.
Bonus Conclusion: The new ViceWave jerseys are straight 🔥!
It’s all in the details💧
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) November 25, 2019