It has been a pretty unorthodox last 12 months for all of us and the same can be said for the National Basketball Association.
After a successful run of the bubble in Orlando for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, the league chose to quickly transition to the 2020-21 season, getting its own calendar snapped back into place.
This was going to affect no teams more than those who made deep playoff runs, and one of them is the Phoenix Suns’ opponent on Tuesday, the Miami Heat.
Miami fell in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in mid-October after spending nearly three months in the bubble, and 73 days later, it would be playing its season opener. That’s not much time, and to no surprise, the Heat got off to a slow start.
Along with some COVID-19 issues and injuries, Miami started 11-17. But since then, the Heat are 11-4, going on a run at one point of 11 wins out of 12 before dropping their last three coming into Tuesday.
Suns forward Jae Crowder, who was on that Heat squad, confirmed that quick ramp up had him feeling different this season.
“I had my days, I’m not even going to lie, where I felt like, ‘Oh yeah, this is not a normal turnaround,’” Crowder said Monday. “The turnaround was very sharp. I had bad days, I had good days and I had to change a few things with my routine and with some stuff here and there given the schedule and how crazy it can be with us.”
Crowder laughed as he said he definitely understood what was going on with Miami’s poor beginning to the season before saying there were more fortunate teams that hadn’t played in a long time and were able to stay fresh.
The 30-year-old veteran said it was a quick process mentally where he realized he had to change some things through what he admitted was a struggle and that he has a good feel for it now.
“I just think this season is one of those seasons where it’s going to take a lot of us time to click,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “I think getting Jimmy (Butler) back and healthy has helped [the Heat] for sure. He was in and out early in the year and now he’s back consistently and you can see the impact.”
You sure can.
Butler, who was a warrior in that Finals run and proved he’s one of the best basketball players on the planet, missed the third and fourth games of the year for Miami due to an ankle injury. After four games back, he was out again for 10 games due to COVID-19.
He returned, and outside of sitting two games in late February for a knee issue, he is back to being awesome again. In his last 10 games, Butler is averaging 26.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game while shooting 55.4% from the field.
Butler’s a tough matchup for the Suns, as he has the muscle to get through great perimeter defender Mikal Bridges and the quickness to get around the ever-reliable Crowder.
In Jimmy Buckets’ lone game against Phoenix last year, he scored 34 points on 11-of-16 shooting. He made quick work of Kelly Oubre Jr., Devin Booker, Bridges and some of the switches the Suns ran.
Williams always speaks highly of the way Miami plays using lots of motion offensively and a defensive style that forces turnovers.
He will not be viewing this 22-21 Heat team as just the fifth-place squad in the East that’s only a game over .500, and neither should you.
“We understand we have to be solid from the jump with this team,” Williams said. “Jimmy has had that effect on every place he’s been. He allows for other guys to play in their strengths and he commands a lot of attention. He has the ball a lot, but he’s a really unselfish player. And then in the moment, he can make big plays.”
“We have a lot of respect for this team, a ton of respect for [the coaching staff] and we know we have to bring it tomorrow,” Williams added.