This key factor could squash the Miami Heat's title hopes

The Miami Heat want to stage back-to-back runs from a fringe playoff seed to the NBA Finals. Their severe health problems, however, could upstage them first.

Miami Heat v Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat v Detroit Pistons / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

For all the highs of the Miami Heat’s logic-defying playoff run in 2023, there's just one downside: Offering fans hope -- or an irrational sense of confidence -- another journey from the No. 8 seed to the NBA Finals is possible. 

The reality is, as the Heat are the No. 8 seed in the East with 14 games left, they may not be capable of staging another magical postseason run. The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are just too good. And the Heat's health problems are just too severe.

Heck, even if Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and other key cogs weren't hurt, the Heat may still fall to either squad. They simply lack the offensive firepower to keep pace with Boston's Jayson Tatum (27.1 points per game), Jaylen Brown (23.3 points per game) and Kristaps Porzingis (20.4 points per game). The Celtics currently lead the NBA in points per game differential (+11.6), effective field goal percentage (58.2%), fourth-quarter points (34.6) and are second in turnover percentage (10.9%). 

If the Miami Heat are to have any hopes of making another deep playoff run, they'll need to get healthy first.

If the Heat face the current No. 2 seed Milwaukee Bucks, it’s unlikely they’ll upset them in back-to-back years. In last year's series, Giannis Antetokounmpo only played two full games. A healthy Antetokounmpo now flanked by a Damian Lillard itching to reignite "Dame Time" spells trouble. The Bucks currently average 120.7 points per game – third-most in the NBA. A stark contrast from the Heat who score the fourth-fewest points per game (109.8).

That total could continue to drop because of Butler's foot injury.

Although not expected to be serious,  Butler missing the back-to-back against the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers is noteworthy. Not just because it heightens the Heat’s chances of losing which invariably raises their chances of drawing that unfavorable first-round matchup with the Celtics, but it also comes at a time when Butler is already struggling to morph into “Playoff Jimmy.”

Butler has averaged just 17.2 points in his past five games and was labeled a “non-factor” in a recent loss to the Denver Nuggets by ESPN’s Tim Legler on the "ALL NBA" podcast. Butler scored just 15 points and four in the fourth. “At no point ... did he try to put his foot on the gas,” Legler added. 

Even if it’s ailing him, Butler will have to put that hobbled foot on the gas because Herro’s own foot injury isn’t getting better soon. Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers will make it Herro’s 12th straight missed game. 

According to the Miami Herald, Herro “received a platelet-rich plasma injection [last] Friday to treat his injured right foot and will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks.” At this point, Heat head coach Erik “Spoelstra hopes to work Herro, who's currently averaging 20 points per game, into the rotation by the end of the regular season,” according to the Sun-Sentinel

Beyond forcing Butler to exert massive amounts of energy while hurt, Herro's injury will make it more difficult for Butler since he’ll draw more double teams. That extra attention prevents Butler from doing what he does best: Attack the rim. There’s a reason why the Heat are 1-5 against playoff contenders since Herro went down. 

The solution to this problem was supposed to be Robinson continuing his remarkable scoring surge.

Emphasis on “supposed to be.”

That’s because Robinson recently sustained a back injury.

He tweaked it during his record-setting, 30-point performance on Sunday and was unable to play through the pain in Monday’s loss to the 76ers. On Tuesday, it was revealed that Robinson exited the Heat's road stretch a day early to see a back specialist in Miami.

“He couldn’t move coming into the (76ers) game — just the workload, everything (Sunday), the flight, or whatever,” Spoelstra told the Sun-Sentinel. “He just couldn’t move.”

So, in a meaningful game against the No. 3 seed Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat will be without Robinson, Herro and Kevin Love, and potentially Butler and Nikola Jovic who are listed as questionable. Love has missed the last 10 games with a heel injury and Jovic has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.

Love's injury only means that more strain is put on Bam Adebayo and increased minutes for backup center Thomas Bryant. Bryant might’ve posted a plus-12 against the 76ers, but that came without Joel Embiid on the floor. When the playoffs come around, can Bryant handle elite big men like Antetokounmpo or Porzingis in extended minutes?

This pinpoints why the Heat's severe health problems could plummet their chances of another miraculous run: Second-rotation players are thrust into major roles such as rookie guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. Although Jaquez is on pace to make the All-Rookie Team, he may not be ready to handle season-deciding moments. 

Just take Monday night’s loss to the 76ers. 

With 24 seconds left, and the Heat down 95-91, Miami’s Caleb Martin nabbed an inbound pass from the 76ers’ Nicolas Batum and found Jaquez for a corner three. 

Jaquez’s shot boinged off the rim and landed in that cozy place between the backboard and the shot clock. The miss prevented the Heat from completing a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback. 

This isn’t to denigrate Jaquez. It’s a rookie growing pain he’ll learn from. The point is he shouldn’t be taking that shot. That’s what the Heat are paying Butler, Robinson and Herro a combined $90,337,960 this year to do. 

Unfortunately, they were all on the sideline.