The Miami Heat, winners of eight of their last nine, finally seem to have some continuity.
That’s even with Tyler Herro sidelined with a sprained ankle for at least another week – and his return will prompt several questions. But, for now, the Heat have a decent sample of what has worked.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has tinkered with the rotation. Thomas Bryant was the backup center, now it’s Kevin Love, who used to be the starting power forward before Haywood Highsmith won the job. Duncan Robinson is thriving as a starter and Jaime Jaquez Jr. is making the most of whatever minutes he’s given.
The Heat don’t have a single five-man lineup that has logged more than 74 minutes together. Compared to the best starting units in the league – the Rockets (plus-13 net rating in 189 minutes), Celtics (plus-28.4 in 176 minutes) and Nuggets (plus-14.6 in 157 minutes) – and the Heat are lacking in quality time.
But there’s enough here to draw some tepid conclusions. Better said, the following player combinations can be looked at as green lights to keep going down the road to see what is really going on.
Here are some of Miami’s better player combinations so far this season.
Jimmy Butler and Kevin Love
Butler and Love have logged 127 minutes together and the Heat are out-scoring teams by 14 points every 100 possessions with them out there.
It’s not hard to figure out why the combination works. Butler operates in the low post and Love spaces the floor beyond the 3-point line. (Lineups with Butler and Love have a better net rating than lineups with Butler and Bam Adebayo, probably for this reason.)
Here, Love is one pass away from Butler, so Nikola Vucevic can’t leave him to double as Butler backs Zach LaVine down to get to his spot.
Here’s another example. Butler is backing down his defender and though Nic Claxton is thinking about helping with a double-team, he’s nervous to leave Love, who stunted away from the basket, alone beyond the 3-point line. Claxton ends up stranded in between and Butler gets all the way to the hoop.
There are the obvious pick-and-pops and switches that come with them that allow Butler to attack downhill. Love is also an excellent passer who is always looking to find Butler cutting baseline. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they two vets have hashed out a valuable two-man game, and Spoelstra has responded by aligning their minutes.
Last season, Spoelstra preferred to keep Butler and Adebayo on the floor together because it was Miami’s most effective two-man game. Butler finding a dance partner in Love has allowed Spoelstra to stagger his two best players (most of Adebayo’s minutes, on the flip side, come alongside Duncan Robinson, with whom he has years of chemistry built-in).