Miami Heat have started the season 2-0, despite Jimmy Butler‘s absence. Beating the Memphis Grizzlies was one thing, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on Saturday night was something else. The Bucks forced overtime thanks to a Giannis Antetokounmpo field goal at the buzzer, but Miami snatched the win with Antetokounmpo fouling out in OT.
Goran Dragic ran the point after early offensive struggles for Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk hit a couple of big threes. Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn both started the game and reached double figures. Bam Adebayo was immense at both ends. Despite a difficult night in Milwaukee, Winslow has shown promise in the opening couple of games – he starred in the win over Memphis.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are next up for Miami. The second of a back-to-back, and playing on the road, a win would be a huge marker from the Heat. Doing this without Butler – who should return in the coming days – shows the roster Erik Spoelstra has at his disposal, and is testament to Spoelstra’s coaching. Miami’s head coach gets the best out of his players, their insistence on the highest level of defensive application always makes them competitive. Their basketball will be physical, and often lacking fluency, this season, but they will be a difficult opponent for any team in the league.
Early signs this season are that this is a pretty good team without Butler. Add a top 20 player to the current mix and who knows how good the Heat will be. The defence alone will win them games, the quick adaptation of Herro and Nunn to the NBA is a bonus. Adebayo is a Most Improved Player Candidate. Dragic’s health, and Winslow finding offensive consistency, could determine whether Miami are a top four team in the East.
Going toe-to-toe with the Bucks with Butler would have been notable. Doing so without their All-Star offseason signing, and having to come back from a significant deficit, was the sort of performance that will make the league take notice.
Their clash with Minnesota sees two of the league’s big early season stories go face-off. After that, it’s two against the Hawks, then the Rockets, Nuggets, Lakers and Suns for Miami. It’s a challenging stretch of games before the schedule eases off in mid-November.
If the Heat can go 4-3 or 5-2 over their next seven, they will be in position to be around the top of the East at the start of December.