The Miami Heat (6-12) have been sleep-walking through the first half of the 2020-21 season. It’s not fair to judge them as a finished product until they get all their players back from health and safety protocols. And, per FiveThirtyEight, they still have a 64% chance of making the NBA playoffs.
Those are some pretty good odds, with only nine teams ahead of them. But one former rival and NBA legend has closed the book on the Heat. Ex-Celtics star Paul Pierce recently declared that Miami “will not make the playoffs this year” in comments on ESPN’s The Jump — although he hedged his bet a little bit by adding later: “If Jimmy Butler can get back to that level from last year, the Heat can make the playoffs and make some noise.”
But the initial quote from Pierce stands as such:
As great as the Miami Heat were in the playoffs last year, they will not make the playoffs this year. That’s not the Miami Heat team we saw last year — full of grit, full of grind, like the Memphis Grizzlies. That team was built on hard work and toughness, and I have not seen that this year, and that’s why I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs.
And Pierce wasn’t the only one to have an opinion on the Heat’s future. Vince Carter sounded the alarm for “concern” while Matt Barnes commented that last year’s Heat squad “overachieved” in the bubble. They matched remarks from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith challenging the Heat to prove their NBA Finals run wasn’t “just a fluke.”
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‘Strong Optimism’ Jimmy Butler Returns
The Heat listed All-Star forward Jimmy Butler as questionable on their most recent injury update due to ongoing health and safety protocols. There has been a growing sense that he tested positive for COVID-19 following reports of weight loss. Maybe not. According to the Miami Herald‘s Anthony Chiang, there is “strong optimism” that Butler will return tonight against the Sacramento Kings.
Remember, the 31-year-old hasn’t played since Jan. 9 and has now missed 10 games. He is averaging 15.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in 29 minutes per game.
Hassan Whiteside Helping Kings as Mentor, Reserve
A familiar face will be on the opposite baseline at AmericanAirlines Arena tonight when Hassan Whiteside returns to Miami. The former Heat center signed a one-year contract with the Sacramento Kings in the offseason.
The 31-year-old been thrust into a reserve role as he helps to mentor younger big men Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes. Whiteside is averaging 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per game.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I can be a big difference-maker and do something special instead of just riding on coattails and trying to jump along with other people,” Whiteside told reporters, via Sac Town Royalty.
Originally a second-round pick of the Kings in 2010, Whiteside spent five seasons in Miami and was an integral part of the post-Big Three teams. He led the entire NBA in blocks twice during his Heat career, while grabbing a league-best 14.1 rebounds per game in 2016.
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