The Miami Heat have been through the wringer this season. Let’s look at all the team has overcome after the first 45 games: down to eight available players on December 30; Jimmy Butler missed 18 games; Bam Adebayo broke his right thumb; Markieff Morris can’t catch a break.
The 2021-22 campaign has been arguably Erik Spoelstra’s finest one in 14 seasons. He’s a top candidate for Coach of the Year. And the Heat somehow holds down the second spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We want to play for something special,” Spoelstra said. “You need depth. You need talent and I think everybody in our locker room feels that we’re extremely capable if we have to go deep into our roster and that’s the way it should be.”
The Heat have embraced an underdog mentality, according to Adebayo. He said the team has been referring to the locker room as “The Kennel.” It was something the dominant center first mentioned back in October.
“We got that underdog mentality. We call it ‘The Kennel’ for a reason and that’s just how it goes,” Adebayo said. “A lot of guys on the scouting report aren’t on the scouting report, so they’re very underrated. And we have so much depth anybody can check-in and impact the game.”
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Spoelstra Credits Defensive Effort, Talks Butler Ejection
Spoelstra started his post-game press conference on January 19 with a telling quote: “I bet that was my boss’ favorite fourth quarter of the season.”
Miami held the Portland Trail Blazers to 12 points in the frame and scored a 104-92 victory. Caleb Martin stuck to Anfernee Simons like glue. Adebayo — playing in his second game back from a thumb injury — notched a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds). And the Heat did it sans Jimmy Butler who got ejected with 2:28 left in the first half.
“Everybody’s just on edge right now,” Spoelstra said. “We’re going through two years of this [COVID-19], things are getting competitive, there’s just a lot of emotions.”
Spoelstra didn’t believe Butler’s ejection was warranted. He was walking away from the refs when they tossed him. They appeared to miss a foul call on Jusuf Nurkić.
“I thought that was a pretty quick trigger coming from someone at the other end of the court,” Spoelstra said of the refs’ decision. “I thought he [Butler] had it diffused. I thought he had an explosion, a lot of real emotion, and then Jimmy walked away. And I commend him for that.”
Deepest Team, Unselfish Heat Leaders
Martin scored a team-high 26 points off the bench on Wednesday night. He did his best impression of Butler down the stretch by playing lock-down defense and exploding for 14 points in the third quarter. He was the spark they needed.
After the game, the undrafted tweener talked about filling in for Butler. He wasn’t trying to necessarily mimic the All-Star’s game. Or that of Kyle Lowry who remains out due to personal reasons.
“I do my best impression on guys but I mix in being myself,” Martin said. “So I think that’s what I do is a little bit of everything.”
The best part of this Heat squad is no one demands the spotlight or craves attention.
“They don’t try to steal the spotlight. They don’t need the attention,” Martin said of the veterans. “It doesn’t need to be on them every day. They’re cool with however it goes down and for us to get a win that’s fine. It doesn’t matter who’s bringing it or who’s in the spotlight, or who’s coming to the podium and doing the post-game interview, they don’t care about any of that.”