The Miami Heat is back and ready to crash the East hierarchy

Miami Heat trio (Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)
Miami Heat trio (Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Miami Heat is back and ready to crash the Eastern Conference hierarchy.

Through the first 18 games of the season, the Miami Heat was 6-12 and on the verge of a lost season. Fresh off winning the Eastern Conference and losing in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, Miami looked like a shell of their former selves.

Concern was growing whether the team made the right decisions by letting Jae Crowder walk and questions arose whether Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson – the team’s core 5 – was nothing more than a flash in the pan inside the league’s restart bubble.

Although, since Jimmy Butler has both overcame an early-season ankle injury and his health and safety protocol hiatus, the Heat have been a much different team.

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Butler made his return on January 30, a night in which Miami snapped a five-game losing streak which included a stretch in which the team lost eight of 10. That night also marked the beginning of the team’s turnaround for the season.

Since Jan 30, the Heat is 14-6 (the fourth-best record in the league over that stretch) and has the best defensive rating in the league. They also have the eighth-best net rating. While the team has been up and down on the offensive side of the ball, it’s their defense that has helped them flip the switch on the season.

Jimmy’s leadership can’t be overstated either. Since his return, the team has looked completely different. Their defense has gone to another level and they continue to flash impressive streaks offensively.

If Miami can stabilize their offensive attack, they’re looking more and more like a team that could potentially emerge as an Eastern Conference dark horse entering the playoffs. After floating around the bottom of the standings for the first quarter of the season, Miami is back in the fourth seed of the conference with eyes on potentially moving up.

Miami is just 3.5 games out of the third seed with 34 games remaining and the third-easiest schedule in the Eastern Conference. The Heat has now been a good team more than they’ve been a bad one on the season – considering their first 18 games vs. their following 20.

They continue to round into shape and they’re only going to get better. If the team can continue to play at this high defensive level, a case can be made for this team as a potential dark horse heading into the playoffs.

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I’m not sure if they’ll be able to replicate the success that they experienced in the NBA’s restart bubble last season, but Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat continue to prove that you simply can’t count this team out.