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Miami Is Running Out of Time to Heat Up

The Heat boast a typically stout defense and one of the NBA’s best trios, but icy shooting and overall offensive ineptitude have exposed the cracks in Miami’s foundation

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Miami Heat’s game against Cleveland on Wednesday was emblematic of their entire season to date. The team’s three stars played well, with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro combining for 67 points on only 40 shots. The defense was stout, holding Cleveland to just 104 points, eight fewer than the Cavaliers’ season average. And they were right in the game until the final buzzer—typical for the team that’s played the most clutch games in the league.

And yet, the Heat still lost, 104-100, to drop three games back of Brooklyn for the crucial no. 6 spot in the Eastern standings. That’s emblematic of Miami’s season, too.

Last spring, the Heat finished the regular season first in the East, then advanced to the conference finals with only minor obstacles along the way. (Joel Embiid’s injury in the second round smoothed their path considerably.) They were one Butler miss away from their second Finals trip in three years. But now they seem ticketed for the play-in bracket, with a 35-32 record and the 23rd-best net rating in the NBA.

As is standard for a team led by Butler and Adebayo, the Heat have retained their strong defensive identity even amid their current struggles. They rank seventh in defensive rating (just 0.1 points per 100 possessions outside the top five) and excel at forcing turnovers, limiting offensive rebounds, and not fouling.

But the “defense wins championships” cliché tells only half the story because offense wins championships, too. In fact, it’s just as important for playoff success, and the 2022-23 Heat score the fewest points per game (108.3) of any team.

Even after adjusting for their slow pace, the Heat rank just 26th in offensive rating—ahead of only the four worst teams in the league (Pistons, Rockets, Spurs, and Hornets). Only two of the past 26 teams that won the title ranked worse than 11th on offense: last season’s Warriors (16th) and the 2003-04 Pistons (19th).

The strange part about Miami’s offensive woes is that its most important players are all enjoying solid seasons. Adebayo was an All-Star and Butler should have joined him, while Herro has adjusted well to the starting rotation after winning the Sixth Man award in 2021-22. With that trio, the Heat have three qualified players averaging at least 20 points per game; the Trail Blazers, who rank seventh on offense, are the only other team that can make that claim.

But even amid those solid performances, the Heat expose the limits of building a team around two non-shooters in the modern NBA. This isn’t a new point, but it’s worth revisiting because the numbers are just so extreme. Out of 56 total players averaging at least 20 points per game this season, Butler ranks 52nd in 3-pointers per game while Adebayo ranks 56th.

Taken together, Butler and Adebayo combine for just 0.5 made 3s per game. The top two scorers on every other team combine for at least 1.8 triples per game; the average team is up around 4.5.

Winning that way isn’t impossible, but it forces a team to navigate a very narrow path. In Miami’s case, last season’s excellence reflected the combined brilliance of the Heat’s player development staff and coach Erik Spoelstra, who routinely managed to squeeze more points out of an offensively challenged roster than seemed possible. The 2021-22 Heat ranked 12th on offense.

But that approach requires the right role players to compensate for the stars’ limitations. Last season, the Heat led the NBA in 3-point accuracy (37.9 percent). This season, they’re 28th in 3-point accuracy (33.6 percent). Their drop is the largest for any team since the 2019-20 Warriors.

Those Warriors fell because of the obvious, massive losses of Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and (for most of the season) Steph Curry. The 2022-23 Heat, conversely, have fallen by dribs and drabs across the board. Every one of Miami’s high-volume shooters is less accurate this season.

Heat 3-Point Accuracy

Player 2021-22 2022-23 Change
Player 2021-22 2022-23 Change
Tyler Herro 39.9% 37.5% -2.4%
Victor Oladipo 33.8% 30.9% -3.0%
Duncan Robinson 37.2% 33.5% -3.6%
Caleb Martin 41.3% 37.4% -3.9%
Kyle Lowry 37.7% 33.3% -4.4%
Gabe Vincent 36.8% 32.0% -4.8%
Max Strus 41.0% 33.5% -7.5%
Oladipo’s “2021-22” numbers include both 2020-21 and 2021-22, to increase his sample size because he barely played last season.

That universal decline isn’t the result of tougher attempts. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Heat’s 3-point looks are a bit easier this season. In 2021-22, they attempted the most challenging 3s in the league, based on factors like shot location and defender distance—but their shotmaking (actual performance versus expected) was the league’s best. This season, though, their shotmaking ranks near the bottom of the league.

Heat 3-Point Performance

Statistic Expected 3P% (Rank) Actual 3P% (Rank) Shotmaking (Rank)
Statistic Expected 3P% (Rank) Actual 3P% (Rank) Shotmaking (Rank)
2021-22 34.3% (30th) 37.9% (1st) +3.6% (1st)
2022-23 34.7% (27th) 33.6% (28th) -1.1% (24th)
Based on Second Spectrum data.

Perhaps it’s reductive to say the Heat will go only as far as their 3-point percentages, but that’s been the case in recent seasons. In 2019-20, the team ranked second in 3-point accuracy and made the Finals. In 2020-21, they ranked 19th and were mediocre. Then in 2021-22, they were the best in the league and won the East’s no. 1 seed. Now in 2022-23, they’re bad at 3s, and they’re mediocre overall once again.

Compounding the long-distance issue is that the Heat lag elsewhere on offense, too. Because they barely get to the rim (27th in frequency, per Cleaning the Glass), they also rank just 24th in 2-point percentage.’s John Schuhmann noted that the Heat recently had a 17-game stretch in which their effective field goal percentage was below the league average. No amount of Butler free throws—the one offensive area in which the Heat excel—can compensate for such poor production from the field.

The cavalcade of mostly undrafted players who boosted Miami in recent seasons has stalled, at least for now. Max Strus and Gabe Vincent have regressed, while backup center Omer Yurtseven hasn’t played at all this season due to ankle surgery. Duncan Robinson, in the second year of a five-year, $90 million contract, is largely out of the rotation and hasn’t found his shooting stroke even when he does play. And nobody new has taken their place, like Strus did to fill in for the slumping Robinson a year ago.

Nor have any of the Heat’s veteran role players met expectations. Kyle Lowry is the biggest culprit, as the 36-year-old point guard hasn’t played in a month due to a knee injury and was posting career-worst efficiency numbers before getting hurt. Victor Oladipo shows flashes of his former self—22 points on 12 shots against Atlanta over the weekend!—but is largely inconsistent and shooting just 39 percent from the field. Heck, they’re counting on the recently bought-out Kevin Love as a starter now, after they failed to add a single player at the trade deadline, and even he’s shooting just 24 percent on 3-pointers thus far in Miami.

This is another way that Wednesday’s loss to Cleveland reflects Miami’s entire season: While the three stars all scored at an efficient clip, none of their teammates even reached double-digit points.

Even though they shrink the court on offense, the Heat are still a very good team when all three of Butler, Adebayo, and Herro are on the floor: plus-9.8 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. That margin ranks in the 95th percentile for all lineups leaguewide. That one statistic is reason enough for Heat fans to retain some hope for the rest of the season, and for potential playoff opponents to remain fearful of the havoc a full-strength Miami roster can wreak in an upset bid.

But that trio can’t play all 48 minutes together, and Miami’s current path to points is so fragile that even the slightest disruption creates catastrophe. When Butler sits, they’re minus-3.9 points per 100; when Herro sits, they’re minus-4.4 per 100; when Adebayo sits, they’re minus-6.2.

With just 15 games to go and a sizable gap between the sixth-seeded Nets and seventh-seeded Heat, Miami is overwhelmingly likely to fall into the play-in round rather than automatically advance to the playoffs. According to The Ringer’s NBA Odds Machine as of Thursday, the Heat have an 81 percent chance to be a play-in team; only the Hawks have a higher figure.

Heat’s Projected Finish

Place in Standings Likelihood
Place in Standings Likelihood
Top 6 16%
7th 39%
8th 24%
9th 12%
10th 5%
Below 10th 3%

No. 7 isn’t the worst possible outcome, as it would give the Heat two chances to win a single home game to reach the playoff field. But it’s not a guarantee, either, and in any event, the Heat have struggled for long enough that they’re now doomed to a perilous playoff path even if they qualify.

The Odds Machine projects that in the first round, the Heat would most likely face the Celtics, Bucks, or 76ers—all of whom would be heavy favorites over a team with a negative point differential.

Heat’s Projected First-Round Opponent

Opponent Odds
Opponent Odds
Miss Playoffs 31%
Celtics 26%
Bucks 22%
76ers 15%
Cavaliers 6%
Knicks <1%

This position is reminiscent of where Miami found itself toward the end of the 2020-21 season, when the possibly exhausted Heat followed up their run to the bubble Finals by finishing with the no. 6 seed and being swept by the Bucks. They bounced back just fine from that stumble, winning the East’s no. 1 seed the following season.

But now Lowry’s aged past the point of stardom, Butler is entering his mid-30s, and the Heat’s cap sheet is fairly tied up long term. They already owe more than $140 million in salaries in 2025-26, higher than any team other than the Suns. It’s not clear how many more deep playoff runs this particular group has left, barring a significant infusion of offensive talent to supplement the existing core.

The best teams in the East can both score and defend; the Celtics, 76ers, and Cavaliers all rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating, and the Bucks—while only 17th on offense—are at least better than the Heat on both ends and rounding into shape as they regain full health. Miami is suffering from a foundational problem, and this season seems more and more like a squandered opportunity as each week passes and the Heat remain, well, ice cold.

Stats through Wednesday’s games.