The Miami Heat are preparing to play Game 2 without Jimmy Butler if the six-time All-Star cannot play because of a sprained right ankle. If that’s the case, several other Heat players will need to pick up the slack left by their star player in the midst of a burning postseason run.
The increased responsibility will trickle down to the entire roster if Butler, who is listed as questionable, sits Tuesday. Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry will have to score more, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson will have to be better defensively and make 3s, and so on. No one player can replace Butler entirely, but these next three will be relied upon in specific ways.
Since totaling 40 points on efficient shooting clips in the Heat’s first two playoff games against the Bucks, Bam Adebayo has been in a bit of an offensive slump. Over the last four games, he’s averaging 15.8 points on 42.4% shooting and 4.8 assists. This is a big difference from the player that put up 30-plus points in three straight games from December to January. For the Heat to sustain a lost or limited Butler (who is averaging 35.5 points in the playoffs), Adebayo must rediscover the aggressive scoring threat that carried Miami’s offense earlier in the season.
There have been glimpses: a timely mid-range bucket in the deciding Game 5 against the Bucks, a turnaroud hook shot in the waning moments of Miami’s Game 1 win in New York; But the Heat need this stuff more consistently.
With Butler out, a ton of defensive responsibility falls to Caleb Martin. In Game 1 against the Knicks, Butler spent a majority of the time defending Jalen Brunson. With Butler guarding him, Brunson missed six of his eight shots and turned the ball over once, per the NBA’s tracking data. Martin spent some time on Brunson as well, but the Knicks point guard six points on 3 of 5 shooting when Martin was the closest defender.
Even if Butler is available, coach Erik Spoelstra could take him off Brunson if he feels Butler’s ankle is limiting his mobility. Whether Martin starts in Butler’s place or not, he will need to have one of his best defensive games of the playoffs.
If there’s a dark-horse here, it’s Haywood Highsmith. Highsmith played just under five minutes in Miami’s Game 1 win and has been used sporadically throughout the postseason, but an argument could be made that he makes the most sense as the starter if Butler is sidelined.
Over the years, Spoelstra has shown a willingness — even a preference — to pluck someone from the fringe of the rotation and slip them into the starting lineup. He does this for two main reasons. (1.) That player would likely have to play minutes anyway, because of the injury, and so bracketing him with better players in the starting group could cover up for his shortcomings, and (2.) It limits the domino affect of elevating someone from the bench unit across the entire rotation.
Whether Highsmith starts or not, he’ll likely see more minutes. So far this postseason, he’s seen comfortable with the stage, whether he was guarding Giannis or helping anchor Miami’s zone against the Knicks. The Heat could need him even more.