Miami Heat loss to Mavericks illustrates importance of 'Playoff Jimmy'

With a roster hampered by injuries and an ever-shrinking championship window, can Jimmy Butler become 'Playoff Jimmy?'

Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks
Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks / Tim Heitman/GettyImages
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After the Miami Heat watched the Dallas Mavericks storm back from a 14-point deficit to win 114-108 on Thursday night, one thing became clear: Jimmy Butler can’t afford to have off nights. 

Not when stars like Luka Doncic go for a 35-point triple-double. 

Not when Tyler Herro is injured. 

Not when the Heat are jostling for a better playoff seed to avoid the play-in game and avenge last year’s loss in the NBA Finals. 

On Thursday, Butler finished with a season-high six turnovers and 14 points – his least since a Dec. 30 loss to the Jazz. 

He was held scoreless in a third quarter in which the Heat were blitzed 37-25 and was capped by him zipping a chest pass to the Mavericks’ Josh Green. Although he scored eight in the fourth, none came in the final four minutes when the Heat trailed 101-100. The Mavericks capitalized on it and closed on a 14-7 run. 

Butler's recently shown he can lead the Heat past non-playoff contenders such as the Pistons, Jazz and Trailblazers. But what about the more difficult matchups? Thursday’s loss comes less than two weeks after a road loss to the Denver Nuggets. Butler scored 21 points in that affair, but more was needed.

Then comes another difficult matchup: Friday night against the surging Oklahoma City Thunder. They have the third-best home record (24-6) in the NBA and their 123.6 points per game is second-best. After facing Donic, the NBA’s leading scorer, they’ll have to stop the NBA’s second-leading scorer, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 

Should fans be worried if the Heat fall tonight and two games later to the Denver Nuggets at home because of Butler not erupting for 25-plus points? Not ‘miss the playoffs’ worried, but ‘bounced in the play-in game worried' or ‘bounced in the first round worried?’ 

Maybe. 

That said, in an 82-game season, it’s easy to make too much out of a couple of games. After all, this is "Playoff Jimmy" we’re talking about. 

Beyond that, is all this too harsh? Shouldn’t Bam Adebayo shoulder some blame for Thursday’s loss? He didn’t make a single field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. What about the Heat cooling off from three after drilling nine of their first 11 attempts?

Herro’s foot injury doesn’t help either. His shot-making ability could’ve pulled the Heat out of dry spells. Don’t let the 4-2 record without him or last year’s playoff run fool you – the Heat are better when he’s on the floor. Add the injured Kevin Love to the mix, too. His replacements of Thomas Bryant and Haywood Highsmith combined for four points. Butler, meanwhile, appeared to have hurt his wrist on a blocked dunk attempt in the third quarter. Although, it doesn't seem serious.

Without Terry Rozier’s Miami-high 27-point performance, Thursday easily could’ve been a lopsided loss. But that won't happen on a nightly basis so now there's more pressure on Butler than ever.

Before the Mavericks confounded him by closing driving lanes on Thursday, Butler looked prime to enter that classic "Playoff Jimmy" mode. On Tuesday, he scored 26 points – 15 in the fourth quarter – to prevent an embarrassing loss to the Detroit Pistons. That came on the back of a 37-point performance which lifted the Heat over the Jazz. 

Heck, he’s even added a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal recently. His 45.5% clip this year is a career-best and he’s made a three in 16 straight games – another career-best. 

Then last night happened. 

So now, while dealing with a sore wrist, a roster hampered by injuries, and an ever-shrinking championship window, Butler must prove Thursday was an aberration and that "Playoff Jimmy" is back. 

And here to stay.

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