Play-in tournament or not, Heat still aren't capable of winning a title

Escaping the play-in tournament wouldn't have changed the fact that the Miami Heat aren't good enough.
Miami Heat v Houston Rockets
Miami Heat v Houston Rockets / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Over the past couple of months, the chatter about whether the Miami Heat could escape the play-in tournament felt superfluous.

Not because the Heat always felt destined to make it, which they’ve essentially done by losing to the current No. 6 seed Indiana Pacers on Sunday. Rather, it’s because it distracted from the more important yes or no question: are the Heat capable of winning a 2024 NBA championship?

The answer?


The competition is too good, meanwhile, the Heat aren’t good enough. Escaping the play-in tournament would’ve just truncated the number of games before realizing this. 

Do you seriously think this team is capable of beating the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics who are 3-0 against the Heat this season?

The Heat’s offense has been better of late, but far from enough to keep pace with a Celtics team boasting Jayson Tatum (averaging 27 points), Jaylen Brown (23.2), Kristaps Porzingis (20.3) and Derrick White (15.4). As a result, Boston is No. 1 in offensive rating. The Heat are 21st. The Celtics also happen to have the only defense in the East with a better rating than Miami's.

Escaping the play-in tournament wouldn't have changed the fact that the Miami Heat aren't good enough.

In the unlikely scenario that the Heat upset Boston like they did last year and make another improbably run to the Finals, you know who’ll likely be waiting for them? The Denver Nuggets. 

Once again, the Heat don’t have the depth to notch four wins in a seven-game series. This was illustrated tacitly in the Heat’s two losses to Denver this year. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic didn’t eclipse 20 points or eight assists in either game but the Heat still fell. 

In the last matchup -- a 100-88 home loss -- Denver’s Jokic and Jamal Murray combined for just 26 points. Didn’t matter. Michael Porter Jr.’s offensive brilliance put the Heat away with ease. Jokic and Murray both rested comfortably in the breezy victory's final minutes. 

Maybe the outlook wouldn’t be so bleak if “Playoff Jimmy” appeared.

Sure, Butler scored 27 points against the Pacers on Sunday, but the Pacers boast the seventh-worst defensive rating (117.6) in the NBA. Furthermore, since March 7, Butler’s notched 25 points just twice. 

This could explain why the Heat fell to playoff contenders like the 76ers, Nuggets, Mavericks, Thunder and Pelicans. Not one for optics, Butler missed a March 26 matchup against the Golden State Warriors with a non-Covid illness a day after saddling up alongside celebrities for tennis at the Miami Open. With Butler sitting courtside, the Heat were bludgeoned on their home floor by the Warriors, 113-92. 

Is such criticism unfair? Maybe. But Butler’s not getting paid $45 million to play hooky with the who’s who of the 305 and not produce. What’s more, Butler could be a victim of setting an unrealistic bar for himself. 

By leading the Heat from the dregs of the playoff bracket to the NBA Finals last year, Butler’s shown he’s capable of pioneering miraculous playoff pushes. He averaged 28.7 points and 8.7 assists in the regular season in April and 37.6 points in the first round to upset the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Celtics. 

Yet Butler did all that and Miami still couldn’t win a championship. 

Now that he’s struggling it’s even less likely. The Heat don't have the supporting cast to make up the difference. 

Terry Rozier, one of the Heat’s top scorers, tweaked his neck in Sunday’s loss and told reporters after his four-point performance that he regretted trying to play through it. Making matters worse, Duncan Robinson has shot 24% from beyond the arc in his first five games since returning from a back injury. 

Though Tyler Herro’s excelled since returning from a 20-game-long absence (foot injury), the Heat just don’t play well enough long enough to beat playoff contenders.

This, of course, was evidenced by Sunday’s loss. Sure, the Heat made it close thanks to Herro’s late-game heroics, but it was never enough to climb back from a 63-43 deficit they faced in the waning moments of the first half. 

In doing so, the Heat have beaten teams currently set to make the playoffs just three times since Jan. 1. One of those rare occasions occurred in a recent back-to-back against the Donovan Mitchell-less Cleveland Cavaliers. 

That blemish would still stand even if the Heat topped Indiana Sunday night. That’s because the Heat followed up a dominant 109-99 win over the Knicks last Tuesday with a discouraging 109-105 loss to the 76ers two days later. 

Play-in tournament or not this team remains too fraught to win an NBA championship.

Eking out a sixth seed would’ve been like avoiding a tumbleweed only to swerve into a sinkhole.