The Heat lineup that starred in bubble only now getting a chance to play together again

Barry Jackson
·5 min read

As Miami was staying one step ahead of an exceptional Utah Jazz team on Friday, it was a reminder of how formidable this Heat team looked in the NBA’s Disney bubble, with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic collectively and simultaneously playing like All Stars.

“It feels we are right back from the bubble,” Dragic said after that 124-116 win against Utah. “We have to be realistic. I don’t know how many games we three guys played together. It’s not much.”

Dragic nailed the salient point here.

Butler, Adebayo and Dragic - the three most critical pieces of the Heat’s 2020 run to the NBA Finals - entered Sunday night’s game against Atlanta having played just 10 games together and just 79 total minutes as a trio this season, the equivalent of less than two full games.

And here’s why that matters: During the playoffs last season, the Butler-Adebayo-Dragic troika logged 352 minutes of court time together in 17 games and Miami outscored teams by 83 points and shot 47.7 percent from the field and 38.8 percent on threes during those 352 minutes.

Aside from four different three-man Los Angeles Lakers lineups, no trio of teammates outscored teams by that large a margin during the 2020 postseason.

“Hopefully,” Dragic said, “we can try to stay on the floor together and get back to that bubble Miami Heat.”

The season has been bumpy for Dragic, who has missed 14 games — two because of health and safety protocols, three because of a strained left groin and nine because of a sprained ankle. He scored 26 points on 9 for 15 shooting on Friday in his second game back from the ankle injury.

“I feel great,” he said. “I feel confident enough. I’ve been through a lot. This is my 13th year in the league. I just need consistency. Protocol, ankle injury, been up and down for me. Hopefully, now I can play with the team. I know how to play basketball. That’s not a problem.”

Butler framed his good friend’s contributions this way: “Goran does the same thing I do -- just a little bit better. I’m a little better defender than Goran. He’s getting older. He scores, gets everyone easy shots, directing traffic, telling everyone where to go. It’s really impressive seeing him play basketball. He doesn’t worry how many points he scores or assists; he’s just trying to win the game. That’s what I love about him.”

Dragic, in his 19 games and six starts, is now averaging 15.0 points and 5.0 assists (down slightly from last season because his minutes are down slightly) and shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 37.5 percent on threes, both up slightly from a year ago.

“You can tell we’ve missed Goran,” Adebayo said.

The Butler/Adebayo/Dragic lineup, in those 79 minutes this season, has outscored teams by 12 points. Since the beginning of the 2019-20 regular season (Butler’s first with the Heat), Miami has outscored teams by 154 points when those three are on the floor together, or by 8.2 points per 48 minutes.

“You see progress,” Dragic said. “Now we feel great. We’re back to the Miami Heat basketball we want to play.”

As a member of the Heat, Dragic has scored at least 20 points in 22 games off the bench, equaling Kevin Edwards’ franchise record.

UPDATE: Butler will miss Sunday’s game with knee inflammation. Here’s my late Sunday afternoon story on that.

THIS AND THAT

Here’s the good news for Heat forward Kelly Olynyk: He’s playing more than he ever has in his four seasons with the Heat - 26.3 minutes per game, compared with 23.4 in 2017-18, 22.9 in 2018-19 and 19.4 last season. He’s less likely to be yanked out of the lineup at the whim of coaches than in past years.

“It’s nice to play consistently like that,” he said.

And this, too, is a positive: The Heat generally has played well with Olynyk on the court over the past month. In the past 15 games since Jan. 30, Miami has outscored the opponent by 96 points with Olynyk on the court.

The bad news: He’s shooting a career-worst 42.8 percent from the field (down from his 47.3 percent career average) and is making a career-worst 32.4 percent of his three-pointers, well below his 36.7 career mark.

Within the past week, he has spent time searching for solutions with shooting coach Rob Fodor.

“The shot hasn’t been going in the way you want, especially recently [but] you have to keep shooting,” he said. “Stick to what you’re doing. Things will come. It’s tough. It’s been a little bit of a stretch here. You put in work behind the scenes. Those are good shots for us.”

Olynyk is averaging 9.9 points and 5.8 rebounds and has started 27 of the Heat’s past 28 games.

Hawks forward Solomon Hill, who played meaningful minutes for the Heat during last year’s NBA Finals, said Miami never made him an offer during the offseason.

After squandering a big lead in an overtime loss in Golden State, the Heat entered Sunday’s game having won five straight. So what changed after that game?

“We were tired of getting our [butt] kicked,” Adebayo said. “That’s the best way I can put it. There was no other way to put that. Everybody kind of counted us out kind of like last year - didn’t expect us to be good. We are… trying to keep stacking these Ws.”