Why the Miami Heat should prioritize load management over playoff position

The Miami Heat should shift their focus to being rested for the playoffs, not escaping the play-in tournament.
Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers
Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers / Jason Miller/GettyImages

If the Miami Heat want to stage another deep postseason run, they should embrace the two words the NBA considers a disgrace: "Load management."


That means turning their backs on big-spending fans, cash-hungry media titans and disregarding pleas from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. 

With 34-year-old star Jimmy Butler’s championship window narrowing, there’s simply no time to waste. If anyone has an issue with load management, well, that’s their problem. 

And if the Heat are apprehensive, they should look at recent history. 

In 2019-20, Butler sat in five of the last 11 regular-season games. Two years later, Butler sat in five of the final 18 games. Last year, Butler sat the final two games of the season.

In hindsight, do fans remember – nor care – about those missed games? Of course not. They remember how Butler led the Heat to the NBA Finals in 2020 and 2023, and how Miami was one win shy of reaching the NBA Finals in 2022. 

The Miami Heat should shift their focus to being rested for the playoffs, not escaping the play-in tournament.

What’s more, those nights off provided Butler the rest needed to become “Playoff Jimmy.” If he slogged through those relatively meaningless affairs, he may not have had the energy required to uncork 56-point and 42-point performances to upset the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the first round last year. 

Still apprehensive? Just look at what’s transpired this past week. 

After sitting out a back-to-back on Sunday and Monday because of a hurt foot, Butler netted 30 points in Wednesday’s 104-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers – nearly double what he averaged in his past five games. Particularly evident of load management’s efficacy was his 6-for-7 line from the charity stripe. He’d attempted just seven total in his prior two games. 

Free throw attempts – especially for a contact-embracing force like Butler – can be one indication of success and energy levels.

For reference, he attempted 18 free throws in that aforementioned 56-point masterpiece, but zero when he scored 13 points in the Heat’s Game 1 NBA Finals loss to the Denver Nuggets. His lowest scoring affair in that magical playoff run. 


Heat forward Nikola Jovic should know. He missed the same back-to-back as Butler because of a hurt hamstring and netted 14 points, shot 4-for-10 from deep and hauled seven rebounds. It was his best performance since he had 24 points and seven rebounds in a Feb. 13 win over the Bucks.

Players play better when they’re not fighting nagging injuries. So why burn oneself out before games truly start to matter? Especially for Butler who will bear more responsibility to score because Tyler Herro (20 points per game) and Kevin Love (nine) remain sidelined with no timetable for a return.

A similar principle applies to Heat big man Bam Adebayo who said he sat Wednesday’s win for “maintenance” purposes because of a lower back contusion. Adebayo likely could have played, but gritting through it would’ve only left him more susceptible to a season-ending injury moving forward. 

Adebayo’s decision to err on the side of caution could be confusing to those familiar with the“Player Participation Program”: An NBA policy started this season to prevent load management. Players have to play at least 65 games to be eligible for various end-of-season awards like MVP and All-NBA.

This has a major financial impact on Adebayo because he can be supermax eligible if he makes an All-NBA team. This is the difference between a three-year extension for $152 million or a four-year extension for $245 million.

Adebayo has missed 11 games this season, so he can still qualify. Now it's about balancing rest with remaining eligible for a spot on an All-NBA team.

Then there's Duncan Robinson, who exited midgame on Monday night with a back injury and didn’t play on Wednesday after seeing a specialist in Miami.

According to the Miami Herald, Robinson “is not expected to be out for an extended stretch after the scan of his injured back did not reveal any significant issues.”

Although encouraging, Robinson shouldn’t feel obligated to play before he’s ready just to help the Heat avoid the play-in tournament even if the Heat are just a half-game back from the Indiana Pacers for the No. 6 seed entering Friday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Is avoiding the play-in helpful? Yes. A non-negotiable for a deep playoff run? No.

Look, the Heat will eventually have to face the current No. 1 seed Boston Celtics or the No. 2 seed Milwaukee Bucks. They’ll be more equipped to handle them with a roster that’s not dragged down by a taxing playoff push. 

Too much time off could hurt, but in a cost benefit analysis, it’s better to gamble on rest than rust. 

Which also means Miami could fall victim to a lack of lineup continuity. But for those worried that the Heat doled out their 33rd starting lineup this season on Wednesday night – surpassing the previous season high of 31 – then just reflect back on last year’s playoff run. 

The starting five the Heat used to clobber the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals – Jimmy Butler,  Caleb Martin, Bam Adebayo, Max Struss and Gabe Vincent – played just 62 minutes in the regular season together. 

A healthy Butler, Adebayo and Robinson surrounded with complementary pieces like Martin and Terry Rozier gives the Heat their best chance this postseason. 

If the Heat do fall short, playing more games together wouldn’t be their undoing. It’s the fact they didn’t play up to their potential in the games they did play in. 

Next. Next. 5 Players Heat fans should watch in the NCAA Tournament. dark