Heat regain footing with win over Thunder

By Ira Winderman
South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS

MIAMI, FLA - A challenging early-season schedule hasn’t provided many nights when the Miami Heat could right themselves, regain their footing, move closer to the cohesion achieved at the end of last season.

Monday night was one of those nights, when even an occasional misstep against the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder could not get in the way of the Heat moving their game to a higher plane, in a 118-90 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Hosting the right opponent at the right time, the Heat debuted their triple-hue ViceVersa court and uniforms and produced a 180 from Friday night’s lackluster, lethargic and languid road loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

“Basketball is something it’s not like you can conquer it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“You have to work the things that help you to be successful.”

With Jimmy Butler regaining his touch, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro filling out the box score, and Kelly Olynyk injecting vitality into the starting lineup, the Heat moved to 3-3 as the await Wednesday’s nationally televised visit by the Boston Celtics.

Butler busted his slump with 18 points and six assists. Herro closed with seven points, nine rebounds and eight assists, with Adebayo with 20 points on 9-oof-10 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists. And in his first start of the season, Olynyk contributed 19 points and eight rebounds, shooting 5 of 7 on 3-pointers, as the Heat set season highs in 3-pointers and  assists.

The Thunder, who in the offseason lost Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Jackson, and Dennis Schroder, among others, were led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 18 points.

Five Degrees of Heat from Monday’s game:

1. Butler back at it: Having gone without a basket since the first half of the Heat’s Christmas Day victory over the visiting New Orleans Pelicans, Butler scored the Heat’s first two baskets, both on layups, and kept going from there, including 10 points in the second period.

Butler was coming off an 0-for-6 game in Friday’s road loss to the Dallas Mavericks, entering 9 of 28 from the field this season. He missed both home games last week against the Milwaukee Bucks due to a sprained right ankle.

“He is going to figure out all of this on his own,” Spoelstra said. “The level of concern in our building was extremely low.”

2. Olynyk’s turn: The Heat’s wheel of lineups this time landed on Kelly Olynyk, the Heat’s fourth starting power forward in the team’s six games, following in the footsteps of Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard and Andre Iguodala.

It left the Heat with their sixth starting lineup, one rounded out by Butler, Adebayo, Herro and Duncan Robinson.

Monday’s starting group played a total of 15 minutes together last season, although Olynyk had substantial success two seasons ago when playing alongside Adebayo.

“There’s a great deal of continuity with the two of them,” Spoelstra said. “That group feels very comfortable.”

3. Doing it all: Spoelstra made it clear pregame that the offense would be guided by Butler and Adebayo, and that everyone else should focus on doing what they do best.

“Jimmy and Bam are our primaries,” he said. “And then our offense functions off of them.”

So Herro played loose and free. The result was one of his most complete games with the team, filling the box score and making himself a nuisance on both ends.

4. Lesson plan: The Heat and rookie forward Precious Achiuwa offered a lesson in how not to close a period at the end of the first quarter.

Up nine earlier, the Heat gave up a four-point play to Mike Muscala with 4.8 seconds left in the opening period, when he converted a 3-pointer while fouled by Achiuwa.

Achiuwa then threw away the ensuing inbounds pass, with Justin Jackson making the steal and converting a 3-foot jumper with one second left in the quarter, taking the score in 3.8 seconds from a 26-20 Heat lead to 26-26 going into the second.

Achiuwa then began the second period on the bench.

To their credit, the Heat promptly pushed to a double-digit lead early in the second period, which ended with a 63-49 lead on the Thunder.

5. Two-man game: Referee Kane Fitzgerald was forced out with a leg injury with 3:50 left in the opening period.

That left Aaron Smith and Brandon Schwab to work as a two-man crew. Unlike during the playoffs, the NBA does not have an alternate referee on site during the regular season.

Schwab is listed as a “non-staff official” by the NBA, with such prospects working early-season games.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Precious Achiuwa #5 of the Miami Heat battle for a loose ball during the third quarter at American Airlines Arena on Jan. 4, 2021 in Miami, Fla.