The Miami Heat were one of the pleasant surprises of the 2019-20 NBA regular season before play was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite tempered preseason expectations and a relatively inexperienced roster, they climbed all the way up to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, and boasted one of the better home records in the entire league. They sent two players to the All-Star Game in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and they looked like they could be a legitimate threat come postseason play.
However, like all of the other teams from across the league’s landscape, the Heat will enter Orlando facing their fair share of uncertainty. With that said, here’s a look at the biggest questions facing Miami when the season resumes after nearly five months of no basketball.
How will the Heat fare at a neutral location without fans?
It’s difficult to predict how any team will fare in the Orlando bubble considering the entire situation is an unprecedented one. That’s especially true for the Heat, who had one of the bigger disparities between how they played at home compared to their road performance this season. While they were an extremely impressive 27-5 within the friendly confines of American Airlines Arena in Miami, they were just 14-19 on the road.
At home, they secured impressive wins over Eastern Conference rivals like the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. However, on the road they suffered embarrassing losses to the likes of the lowly Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s no telling exactly how Miami’s glaring home/road imbalance will translate at a neutral site without fans in the arena, but it will be extremely interesting to find out. In this situation, veterans with ample experience in postseason play will be especially important.
The good news for Miami is that it has a few leaders in Butler, Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. The presence of longtime veteran Udonis Haslem on the bench also helps keeps the younger players on point. It also helps to have a seasoned head coach in Erik Spoelstra, who knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. Expect the rest of the Heat roster to look to those guys for leadership while in Orlando.
How much does Iguodala have left in the tank?
At the peak of his powers, Iguodala was one of the best two-way players in the entire NBA. Iguodala was a lock-down perimeter defender with extreme athleticism and the ability to get buckets in transition and in the half court. He has also shot a respectable 33 percent from long distance over the course of his career. He was a huge part of the reason that the Golden State Warriors won titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018, and he was named Finals MVP in ’15 due to the overall impact that he had on the series. Thus, there was a lot of hype when the Heat traded for Iguodala from the Grizzlies in February and then immediately inked him to a two-year, $30 million extension.
However, at this point in time it’s fair to wonder just how much Iguodala has left in the tank. Iguodala is 36 years old and has been in the NBA since 2004. He has played in over 1,200 total regular season and postseason games, and has dealt with injury issues throughout his career. In the 14 games that he played for the Heat during the regular season, he averaged just 4.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and two assists in 18.5 minutes of action. Although his numbers weren’t gaudy in Golden State, he didn’t necessarily look like the difference-maker that he was with the Warriors in the games he played this regular season. If his tank is close to empty, his impact in Orlando will likely be limited. however, if he’s able to look like his old self, he could be a major factor for the Heat in the postseason. Luckily for him and Miami, this lengthy time off should only help him for the final stretch.
How will Miami’s young players perform in the postseason?
We’ve all heard the trope that postseason NBA basketball is very different from regular season NBA basketball, and in many ways it is. Postseason play tends to be more physical, more intense and more intellectual than regular season ball, as teams face off against each other multiple times in a row and thus have have advanced opportunities to develop in-depth schemes and game plans, and also to develop some bad blood.
It often takes young players a bit of time to get accustomed to postseason play, and many of the best players in league history — guys like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James — went through their fair share of postseason struggles before they were able to turn that experience into a weapon. Remember Kobe’s infamous “airball” game against the Utah Jazz in the postseason in 1997?
In other words, playoff experience often goes hand-in-hand with postseason success, and young players often struggle during their first couple of postseason appearances. The Heat rely on four players in their rotation — Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and Derrick Jones Jr. — who have zero playoff experience. Additionally, their regular-season leader in minutes per game, Bam Adebayo, only has five career postseason appearances to his name. How those players adapt and adjust to postseason play will go a long way toward determining how the Heat will fare in Orlando.
Do they have enough star power to make a deep postseason run?
More so than in any other sport, star players are central for team success in the NBA. Due to the fact that there are only five players on the court at a time for a team in basketball — compared to higher numbers in other sports — it is easier for one individual to have an enormous impact on the outcome. This is why you’ll often hear people refer to the NBA as a “star’s league.” It’s not necessarily impossible to win a title without a superstar, but the more elite talent you have on a team, the easier it becomes. Just ask the Golden State Warriors.
Considering this, it’s fair to wonder if the Heat have enough top-tier talent to make a deep playoff run. With five All-Star appearances and two All-NBA selections to his name, Jimmy Butler is a bona fide star, but besides him there’s a void. Adebayo was named to his first All-Star Game this season, and while he appears to be well on his way to superstardom, he’s not quite there yet. And while a prime Iguodala could be placed into the “star” category, it’s fair to say that he’s past his prime at this point in his career. The Heat themselves don’t seem to be sold on their own star power being enough, as they continue to pop up in rumors relating to their interest in acquiring an additional star or two.
A tangential question to whether the Heat have enough star power to make a deep postseason run is if Jimmy Butler can be the top option on a legitimate contender. Despite his star status, Butler has never been out of the second round and he was unable to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves or Philadelphia 76ers to the conference finals or beyond, despite the hopes of both organizations that he would be able to do just that. We will find out the answers to all of these questions in Orlando.