Jimmy Butler’s grin keeps growing wider and wider. In fact, it nearly hit the floor following the Miami Heat’s 96-94 win on Saturday night over the Los Angeles Lakers.
That scrappy NBA Finals rematch went a long way in winning back some respect for the darlings of the bubble. A smirking Butler had promised earlier in the week that the Heat would make the playoffs, telling ESPN’s Rachel Nichols to “book it.” After their weekend victory, the star forward was quick to double down on his bold claim.
“I’m grinning, you better book it,” Butler told Nichols (again) about the Heat’s playoff chances. “Every win that we get feels great. Don’t get me wrong, are they the defending champs? Yes. But we just got to start stringing together wins, on the road and at home, against the Lakers, against anybody.
The Miami Heat are slowly creeping up the standings after a slow start. The team sits in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with a 13-17 record. They have been tormented and tortured by injuries all year — Tyler Herro (hip) is questionable again — yet the feeling in the locker room remains upbeat.
Butler and company will close out their grueling seven-game road trip tonight in Oklahoma City (tip-off at 9 p.m.) after going 3-3 to date.
“It only takes one significant win to turn a season around,” center Bam Adebayo said. “This road trip has been good for us because when we’re home we really can’t see each other. We’re in the hotel now, we’re traveling together on the plane, really talking to one another and really getting that cohesive brotherhood again, like we had last year [in the bubble]. It’s great for us and we just got to keep it going.”
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Kendrick Nunn Turns Into X-Factor
Kendrick Nunn’s name gets brought up in every single trade rumor for the Heat. Like a reality TV star, the second-year guard is still standing and turning heads in the process. Head coach Erik Spoelstra called Nunn the “X-factor” in Saturday’s win over the Lakers. He scored 27 points in 40 minutes, both numbers were game-highs.
“He’s been playing much better, more aggressively, more confident, really over the last few weeks,” Spoelstra said. “He’s developing some confidence and chemistry with that group, especially him and Bam.”
He’s averaging 14.4 points per game for the season but 20.6 points over his last three contests — and his stats are up across the board for the month of February — while shooting a blistering 62.9% from deep. Nunn explained how he has been playing with the attitude of “being hard to guard.”
“It’s just burning calories, constantly moving,” Nunn said. “If you’re just standing still and not doing things in motion, you’re pretty easy to guard.”
Herro Listed Questionable versus Thunder
Herro suffered a hip pointer injury in the first half of Saturday’s game and exited the floor after only 14 minutes. It’s just another ailment for the 21-year-old who has been dogged by COVID-19 protocols and nagging neck spasms that sidelined him early in the year. His status will be updated closer to tip-off on Monday night (Feb. 22).
“Look, we’ve been in a lot of these situations lately together,” Spoelstra said of the injuries and close losses. “And going through a lot of these experiences, some extremely painful, and then we come to work the next day and try to be better.”
Credit their defensive toughness. The Heat only scored 15 points in the fourth quarter against the Lakers. Luckily, they held their opponents to 17 points in the deciding frame.
“We’re seeing progress really the last few weeks,” Spoelstra said, “and I think our defensive and mental toughness was better in this game [versus Los Angeles], so that was different than the last couple of losses where we had so much pressure on our offense to make stops.”