The Miami Heat have been one Rubik’s Cube fans have not been able to solve during the 2022-23 NBA season. Their 44-38 record, along with having no winner streak greater than four games, suggests they are first-round fodder for the Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics. But their trademark tenacity, experience and stalwart defense are all key components to any deep run.
A win against the Atlanta Hawks in the 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament Tuesday night might not provide those answers, but a loss surely would. It would be inaccurate to say Miami and Atlanta are mirrors of each other, but there are crucial similarities that have hung over both franchises all season long. Failure to meet expectations.
The Heat have plenty of goodwill in reserve due to an NBA finals appearance in the 2020 bubble playoffs and a valiant effort in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Despite a momentous run in 2021, the Hawks will be given little benefit of the doubt after consecutive mediocre seasons. If either team misses the official postseason, then significant changes should be expected.
The Heat could see an early exit as proof that their title window is closing and more perimeter help is urgently needed. That is an issue that should be addressed regardless of outcome, but Pat Riley and company would prefer not to cross that bridge before May. In order for championship contention to remain a realistic priority, this team will need to find its true identity.
That begins against Atlanta. Despite Miami winning three of four regular season matchups, it will take a collective effort to survive this high-stakes showdown. And while Jimmy Butler is always tantamount to the team realizing their full potential, there is another star whose production is even more pivotal.
Let’s break down the X-factor for the Heat in the NBA Play-In Tournament versus the Hawks, and possibly beyond.
Tyler Herro is X-factor for Heat
Jimmy Butler’s ability to impact the game on both ends, as well as a credible track record, gives little doubt that he will step up in a big game. For the last few seasons, Miami’s ceiling has been heavily determined by the play of Tyler Herro. He will be needed to add the necessary offensive firepower to defeat Atlanta.
Herro missed the team’s last game with a quad injury, but head coach Erik Spoelstra might have just been taking extra precaution. Though, a loss did lock the Heat into seventh and an undesirable spot in the play-in, so there was at least some concern about his long-term health and freshness. Assuming he is good to go, Herro will need to re-discover his 3-point shooting stroke.
The 2022 Sixth Man of the Year had another highly productive season, averaging 20.1 points on 43.9 percent shooting from the field and 37.8 from distance. Additionally, Herro handles considerable playmaking duties with over four assists a night. He has struggled to stay efficient down the stretch, though, and was held to 13-of-35 from the floor in back-to-back games against the Hawks in early March.
Head coach Quin Snyder could be looking at the 23-year-old as a key to victory. Miami’s problem has been getting offense from outside of its core. If Herro has another off night, the onus for Victor Oladipo to turn back the clock and players like Max Strus and Gabe Vincent to play out of their minds becomes much greater. Wishful thinking will not be found on either Snyder or Spoelstra’s game plan.
Even when Trae Young hasn’t torched the Heat in their precious meetings, Atlanta as a whole had no problem getting buckets. The team boasts multiple talents who can have big scoring nights and displayed that in their three single-digit losses. The Heat’s defense will need to put forth a strong effort, but Herro will probably need to be in the zone either way. He can exploit Young, pick his spots and get to the free throw line- where he ranks No. 1 one in the league at 93.4 percent.
South Beach needs to hope Tyler Herro is unencumbered by his quad injury because the Heat’s best chance at vanquishing the Hawks is him being active and effective all game long. Although he has been inconsistent in his playoff career (14 points per game, 32.3 3-point shooting, via StatMuse), the Kentucky product is a threat to get hot at any moment.
If the Miami Heat are in fact still a team to be feared in the East, that moment will have to become many more moments. Starting with the 48 that await him and his team in the 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament.
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