Opponent: Miami Heat
Starting Lineup: Jimmy Butler – Kendrick Nunn – Duncan Robinson – Meyers Leonard – Bam Adebayo
Second Unit: Goran Dragic – Tyler Herro – Derrick Jones Jr. – Kelly Olynyk – Chris Silva
Leading Scorer: Butler (20.4 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Adebayo (10.6 RPG)
Leading Assists: Butler (6.6 APG)
Biggest Strength: Shooting
The “surround your primary playmaker with a screener and knockdown shooters” is an offensive scheme many teams play with in today’s game. Entering the season, the Heat had the shooters to get this done, but nobody on their roster screamed “primary playmaker.” Well, Butler has filled that void pretty well. He’s dishing out 6.6 APG, which is the most in his career. It also helps that Adebayo has developed into a great secondary, big-man creator, especially out of the high-post. But this offense doesn’t work if you don’t have a plethora of good outside shooters. The Heat employ four rotation players who shoot the three-ball at a rate higher than 40%, and several others that shoot it in the mid-to-upper 30s. A team can never have too many shooters and the Heat have a lot of them.
Biggest Weakness: Turnovers
The downside of having many players taking on bigger playmaking roles than they’ve ever experienced is the turnovers. The Heat are tied with the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers with the worst TO% in the league, sitting at 14.6%. The aforementioned Butler and Adebayo are averaging career-highs in turnovers. The Indiana Pacers forced nine more turnovers than the Heat did in their last meeting. That will be essential for this game as well.
The X-Factor: Dragic
When Dragic is on the floor with the bench unit, he is the only natural playmaker who can initiate the offense. Herro is getting better at those skills, but he still isn’t there yet. They surround Dragic with shooters like Herro and Olynyk and finishers at the rim like Jones and Silva, but it all starts with Dragic. He’s a natural playmaker and has done it his whole career, but the bench unit crumbles if he’s made uncomfortable. A combination of T.J. McConnell and Edmond Sumner has the ability to fluster him.
The Heat are one of the biggest surprises in the NBA, and that’s mostly due to unexpected leaps from players. Butler, Adebayo, Herro and even Dragic are putting together some of their best seasons of their careers. Arguably the best part of their team is how every player knows their role. They have some rotation players like Leonard, Jones and Silva that are very limited in certain aspects of their games, but they still contribute positively because they stay within themselves. With the possibility of missing both Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis, this might be a difficult matchup for the Pacers