Despite not trading for a star this past summer, the Miami Heat believed that depth would be a strength going into this season. Over the last nine games, the Heat are 8-1, and the second unit has been a big part of that.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the bench a “major X factor” after Monday’s blowout win over the Bulls in Chicago.
“That group is a major X factor for us,” Spoelstra said. “It just feels much different than last year, and not to compare anything. It’s not about that.
“But you can see the boost that they gave us tonight and then they were able to finish that thing off in the fourth quarter, which they wanted to do.”
The Miami Heat's bench has gone from a weakness to a strength, and is a big reason for the team's rise in the East standings.
Against the Bulls in Saturday’s loss, the bench was outscored 26-23. Despite the starters taking a 22-1 lead to open the game, the Heat lost the minutes when Kevin Love (minus-4), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (minus-25), Josh Richardson (minus-26) and Caleb Martin (minus-14) were on the floor.
“They felt a little bit responsible for the other night,” Spoelstra said.
That group responded on Monday by outscoring Chicago’s bench 42-19 before both teams pulled their regular rotation players. The Heat never trailed in the game and won by 18, their widest margin of victory this season.
Love, who has assumed all of the minutes at center when Bam Adebayo rests, finished with 11 points (3 of 5 from 3-point range) and eight rebounds. Richardson chipped in 10 points, including a thunderous put-back dunk.
But it was Jaquez who dazzled on Monday, finishing with 19 points on 8 for 13 shooting (3 for 4 on 3s), three rebounds, four assists and two steals. He effectively spaced the floor from the corner, where all four of his 3-point attempts came from, and made big plays out of offensive rebounds that extended Miami’s lead in the fourth quarter.
“[He] gives us a totally different dimension to that second unit,” Spoelstra said.
Lineups with Butler, Love, Richardson and Jaquez outscored the Bulls by 10 points on Monday night.
This is a trend over this nine-game stretch, when the Heat bench has won their minutes by an average of 0.9 points every 100 possessions (the league’s 12th-best mark in that span). Last season, the Heat’s bench was outscored by 1.1 points every 100 possessions.
After starting the season 1-4, the Heat are now 9-5 and are in fourth place in the East, behind the Celtics, 76ers and Bucks. To compete with them for the conference title, the bench will have to continue to be a strength.