The Miami Heat started the 2019-20 season with great promise before leveling off. Will they emerge from the NBA’s restart as the biggest loser?
After missing the NBA playoffs last season in a typically unimpressive Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat didn’t enter 2019-20 with particularly high expectations. They had added Jimmy Butler and Meyers Leonard via trades with players like Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside heading out to the Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers, but there wasn’t much reason to expect this Heat team to challenge for a top seed in the East.
However, everything changed right off the bat when they had to make emergency roster moves. Dion Waiters and James Johnson were unplayable for various reasons early, Goran Dragic missed time with injuries (as is tradition), and Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn were forced into the starting lineup.
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Two players with limited expectations to even make the rotation let alone see starting minutes exploded onto the scene immediately. Robinson turned out to be one of the best sharpshooters in the NBA. Nunn will probably finish third in Rookie of the Year voting.
Even though Jimmy Butler couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his jump shot, he was setting free throw rate record and his defense was outstanding when he was actually on the floor.
Especially over the two-thirds of the season, this odd-fitting team made things work even through injury issues and a defense that had to play zone at times just to survive. At the high point, the Heat were 19 games over .500 with a 34-15 record.
From that point forward they went 7-9 over the final 16 games before the season was suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of the hiatus, the Heat are 41-24 and sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
As the league prepares to return in late July, the Heat will be on the defensive from the start as they try to protect their spot in the rankings. Much of what was working in their favor during the regular season will be forfeited in the Orlando restart, and perhaps nothing will be more missed than their vaunted homecourt advantage.
When playing at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat were a dominant 27-5, behind only the Philadelphia 76ers at 29-2 and the Milwaukee Bucks at 28-3. Playing on a neutral court will be an interesting experience for plenty of teams, but the Heat may feel the pain of the loss of their home court more than most.
When the Heat play away from home, their abysmal 14-19 road record is among the worst of all the teams currently in the playoffs. While teams that are strong at home but don’t dip much on the road likely don’t have much to worry about on a neutral court, teams like the Heat and the Sixers who are strong at home but weak on the road will be entering uncharted territory. Only time will tell how they are impacted.
Finally, the Miami Heat will face perhaps the toughest schedule of all in NBA’s restart. With just a two-game lead over the Sixers and the Indiana Pacers, the Heat will have to withstand battles against some of the best teams in the league, including two games against the Pacers themselves.
Fortunately, the Heat do hold the tie-breaker against both the Pacers and the Sixers, but in addition to facing the Pacers, they’re going to have to run a gauntlet against the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and their only easy (relatively speaking) game will be against the Phoenix Suns.
The Miami Heat overachieved to get to where they are this season, and they’re going to have to overachieve again just to maintain their status going into the playoffs.