Playoff Miami

The Miami Heat got their inaugural in-season tournament underway Friday night with a bang! Maybe I should say they started off with a “kaboom” and give a South Florida shout-out to Eric Reid in the process. The bottomline is the Heat played well, very well. They matched the “Culture” word emblazoned across their chest in the gritty font on the front of their “City Jerseys” with a physical exertion representative of their adopted moniker. Few teams have the rare ability to elevate their levels when the lights are brightest and the pressure is on. Few teams are able to keep pushing themselves down the stretch when the adenosine triphosphate is low but the epinephrine is still coursing through their veins. Most teams usually decline in their performance during winning time against stingier defenses, but this team—  this version of the Miami Heat led by Jimmy Butler, has consistently shown that their DNA is filled with coding to produce the ability to flip the switch from alternating to direct current when a trophy is on the line.

Sizzling Start

During the regular season portion of the previous campaign the Heat were one of the worst three point shooting teams in the NBA. All of a sudden, game one in Milwaukee and the guys were ripping the nets from deep in a manner that absolutely stunned and disoriented the Bucks. Sniping from a distance is usually how you go deer hunting, but apparently that is how you take down a Wizard as well. Friday night, during the opening match of the group stage, Miami shot 13 of 27 (48%) from three and 48 of 80 overall from the field which translated to an impressive 60% shooting performance from the floor on the night. The Heat were locked in and could not miss. It was very reminiscent of their playoff run last spring. With that said, the Heat also allowed the Wizards to shoot it extremely well. At one point near the halfway point of the first quarter the Wizards were shooting an unbelievable 90% from the field and a scorching 100% (5 for 5) from behind the arc. That is something that will need to be cleaned up moving forward.

It is clear that the Heat treated this game like a playoff game. The effort, energy, and activity was there from the inception. The man movement and body movement was hectic and focused simultaneously. Jimmy Butler took a turnaround fadeaway jumper from the free throw line extended and buried it, nothing but net to start the scoring for the team. We all knew that it was on like Saint Laurent once that shot went in! It was a sizzling start. The Heat shortened up their rotation to only playing 9 trusted guys which surprisingly did not include Kevin Love. The assist numbers were the highest they had been all season with 35. It was clear that the Heat were treating this like a game worthy of their time, which means that Adam Silver may have been onto something with implementing this in-season tournament.

In-season Tournament

Oftentimes when you are innovating, some aspects are rough and messy and not perfectly hammered out in the invention’s first iteration. Declining viewership ratings and a seeming lack of enthusiasm from some teams caused the need for Adam Silver to do something different in the regular season. Let’s face it: the regular season is not that important in the NBA. You don’t win anything for being the best team in the NBA during the regular season. They play 82 games over 7 months and two-thirds of the teams are eligible to play in postseason games after all of that. The Heat broke the model last season by dropping to the 2nd play in game and then running through the East straight to the NBA Finals. It didn’t matter that they were the last seed and had to play the top seeds on the road. The Heat were willing to play anyone, anywhere, at any time and they were going to come to your house no matter how big the Vegas betting spread was and take your home court advantage away from you. It was fun watching the ESPN prediction machine get it wrong every night. The Bucks were the best and most consistent team in the regular season and all that #1 overall seed earned them was nonstop criticism when they lost to the 8th seeded Heat in 5 games. The Heat’s laissez-faire attitude towards seeding and the regular season is something that seemed to have been proliferating league wide. Star players were getting paid more and playing less games. Something had to change.

The idea was sitting in front of Adam Silver’s face the whole time. In Europe’s major soccer leagues they have very popular competitions running concurrently with their leagues. These knockout cup tournaments like the FA Cup in England, the Copa del Rey in Spain, or the Champions League across all of Europe are quite popular and bring a whole new element to the fanbase. Watching Messi and Inter Miami take the USA by storm by winning the League’s Cup and making it to the US Open Cup Final while not making the MLS playoffs is all you need to know about how an in-season tournament can energize a league and their respective fanbases, even when their team has no chance of winning the main league competition. I understand why many people seem to be dissatisfied with the idea or don’t get it. However, all I can say is keep an open mind and give it a chance. The rules are actually quite simple once you look them up. You could end up liking the end product. Those amazing solid color painted courts and matching jerseys encapsulated the raucous playoff atmospheres perfectly and there were some instant classics played between OKC/GSW and Portland/Memphis to make the opening games of this competition a smashing success.

The common phrases about “catching more bees with honey than vinegar” or leading a horse with a carrot instead of beating it with a stick come to mind when I consider Adam Silver’s strategy. Rather than just going all in on penalizing teams and fans for becoming disinterested with the regular season, he created an in-season tournament with real jeopardy, income rewards, and a championship trophy where all 30 teams are eligible to win it regardless of standing in the league. This could be a nice jump start in interest during the dull dog days of the regular season. If Friday night’s games are any indication, this idea could be a major boon for the league because it produced many amazing high quality back-and-forth games that ended with very tight finishes in front of highly engaged fans in playoff like atmospheres. The Heat definitely got the memo and that effort could push start this season that started with our worst record through 5 games since the terrible start the season after the 2006 championship run.

Super Herro

Tyler Herro’s skeptics had to watch him play the game in awe Friday night. The common criticism of Tyler is that he gets his numbers but he does not impact winning because his +/- metrics are often not good even when he scores a big number. Bad perimeter shots lead to long rebounds that start fast breaks. Getting picked on defensively creates a weakness in the Heat’s vanguard. Chucking up a bunch of tough shots inefficiently does not make Tyler an elite scorer. Sure he gets a lot of steals, but he turns the ball over a lot and does not get enough assists to overcome those turnovers. Those are some of the common anti-Tyler refrains just to name a few. Well Tyler was locked in Friday night and he answered all of his skeptics resoundingly. Tyler was efficient from the field and deadly from three. He moved the ball well and almost messed around and got a triple double. In fact, it looked like he had his 10th dime to complete the triple dub on a sweet pass to Thomas Bryant for what looked like it would be a sure dunk, but the Wizards recovered well and Bryant double-clutched instead of going up strong which did not work out well. Tyler never got that 10th assist. However, the fact that Tyler did not get his 2nd career triple double should not be held against him. He played a brilliant floor game along with scoring buckets and had a massive impact on the Heat winning this game. Sure it would have been nice to keep the scoring margin by double digits in case it comes down to a point differential tiebreaker situation, but for now we will enjoy this win and celebrate Mr. Herro. This variant of Tyler is on a mission and since the Heat showed up with this amazing effort on Friday night, it would be nice to see them continue this on Monday against the Lakers. Go Heat!

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