2 Obvious, 1 subtle move Erik Spoelstra must make to turn Heat into legit contenders

Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets
Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets / Jamie Schwaberow/GettyImages
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Just because the Miami Heat made an improbable run to the NBA Finals last season doesn’t mean they will be able to do it again this season. Making out of the East for the third time in five seasons will require new solutions to new problems.

If the regular season is a marathon, then the playoffs are a chess match. Coach Erik Spoelstra knows the regular season is about finding answers and preparing for the postseason. The idea is to use the first 82 games to develop solutions for potential problems.

With 22 games left, the Heat are clicking. They have won 10 of their last 13 games and are within a game-and-a-half of the No. 4 seed in the East. The outlines of what the Heat will look like in the playoffs are beginning to come into focus, but there are still some things Spoelstra can tweak to get his team primed for the postseason.

Few coaches have done as good a job of preparing their teams for the playoffs as Erik Spoelstra, but there are still a few moves he can make to turn the Miami Heat into legit championship contenders.

Although this is out of Spoelstra’s control, the most important thing, as always, is health. After missing three games with a knee sprain, Tyler Herro missed Saturday’s win over the Utah Jazz with right foot soreness. The Heat are being cautious with the lingering injury and his return timeline is unclear. Kevin Love also missed his second straight game with an ankle bruise. The Heat need both back to be at their best.

Jimmy Butler has played his best two-way ball of the season. He’s averaging 24.8 points on 55.8% shooting, 7.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.1 steals over his last 11 games, and the Heat have won six of their last eight games with Butler on the floor.

“It’s that time,” Butler said recently.

So what can Spoelstra do to build on this winning stretch and get the Heat to resemble a legitimate contender by playoff time? The first move might be a starting lineup change.

Start Duncan Robinson over Tyler Herro

The ongoing debate may have reached a tipping point with Duncan Robinson’s enhanced all-around play. In his last four games starting while Herro has been sidelined, Robinson is averaging 5.8 assists per game and has also scored at least 17 points in three of his last six starts.

Herro is the better shot creator, but there’s an argument to be made that Robinson functions better alongside Butler and Adebayo in the starting lineup.

The Heat are outscoring opponents by 8.3 points every 100 possessions Robinson is on the court with Butler and Adebayo, according to Cleaning the Glass. Lineups with Herro in Robinson’s place alongside Butler and Adebayo are winning their minutes by 5.9 points every 100 possessions. 

The difference is on offense, where the Robinson lineups are scoring at a rate of 117.1 points per 100 possessions while the Herro lineups are scoring 114 points per 100 possessions. That’s the equivalent of going from a top-10 offense to a bottom-10 offense depending on the starting shooting guard. 

Those marks aren’t on Herro. If anything, it is more of a reflection on Butler stepping up as the lead playmaker, especially when Herro is out. But there is something to be said of almost forcing Butler to be more aggressive, which seems to happen when Herro isn’t there to create shots.

Starting Robinson over Herro wasn’t a realistic option last season before Robinson broke out of his shooting slump and developed a more well-rounded off-the-dribble game. Now that Robinson can attack closeouts and run pick-and-roll, the dropoff in playmaking isn’t enough to offset the undeniable chemistry Robinson has with Jimmy and Bam.

Spoelstra has already been staggering Herro’s minutes with Butler’s, so bringing Herro off the bench to start games would fit into that strategy and give Miami’s best-fitting five-man unit more time on the court.

It’s fine to try to hash out better chemistry with Herro and the rest of the starters in the regular season but Herro has missed 24 games and there are only 22 left. There may not be enough time left to build that chemistry. Every minute counts in the playoffs, and getting your best lineups more opportunities to build a lead is crucial.