Miami Heat at Full Strength Leave Little Doubt as to Who Runs the East

It’s easy to overlook the Miami Heat.

Following a surprising run to the NBA “bubble” Finals, the defending conference champs were swept in the opening round by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. Then, throughout this season, teams like the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers have earned far more headlines than the franchise down in South Beach.

Yet for all of the hype surrounding a team like the Sixers, the Heat have quietly placed themselves atop the Eastern Conference. Despite a barrage of injuries and bouts with COVID-19, Miami has more or less cruised through the entire season. Now the Heat are at full strength, creating a world of trouble for their greatest rivals and the NBA as a whole.

Bam Adebayo led the Heat through their latest victory

Miami has added eight notches to the win column in its last nine games, propelling its conference-best record up to 40-21. The latest was a thrilling 133-129 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in a rematch of the 2013 and ’14 NBA Finals, albeit with significantly different rosters.

It was a rare down night for the Heat on the defensive end. The 129 points allowed were the most Miami has given up all season, with the other five contests with 120+ points all ending in losses. Yet the Heat managed to score a little bit more thanks in large part to Bam Adebayo and a healthy supporting cast.

Adebayo, who’s missed 25 of a possible 61 games, scored a season-high 36 points on 14-of-21 shooting. That’s after being held scoreless after the first quarter, meaning the former All-Star scored 10, 10, and 16 points over the following three frames. He also added three blocks and a pair of steals.

Along with Adebayo, the Heat received big nights from Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Kyle Lowry. The All-Star Butler and Sixth Man of the Year-favorite Herro each dropped 27 points, with Butler attempting a team-high 15 free throws. As for Lowry, the veteran point guard scored 13 points and dished out 10 assists for his 14th double-double in 48 games this season.

A full-strength Heat squad is almost impossible to take down

Between injuries and the Omicron surge, every team has faced some level of adversity. But few have dealt with hardships — and handled them as gracefully — as the Miami Heat have.

Out of the four players mentioned above, none have seen more than 48 games of action this season. Only four players on the entire roster — Duncan Robinson, P.J. Tucker, Gabe Vincent, and Dewayne Dedmon — have appeared in 50 or more games. And only Robinson and Tucker have started the majority of their respective contests.

But when the likes of Vincent, Omer Yurtseven, and Max Strus are replaced by Butler, Adebayo, and Lowry, great things happen in the 305.

Miami is an impressive 17-6 in games Butler, Adebayo, and Lowry have all started together. The trio has been reunited for its last nine contests, which as mentioned earlier have ended in wins all but once. Before that, you’d have to go back to Nov. 27 to find the last time the three All-Stars took the court at the same time.

The Heat have been lauded for their depth in the wake of their stars missing major time, Adebayo in particular. But with everyone healthy, they have a great case to eventually win the East and add a fourth Larry O’Brien Trophy soon after.

Are the Heat the best team in the NBA?

The 40-21 Heat are the East’s top team by record. Though they still fall short of West teams like the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors, coach Erik Spoelstra’s squad is in the conversation as the most well-rounded team in the league.

Entering Sunday, the Heat are seventh in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating. Not only is that impressive given the lengthy absences of their best players, but only the Suns rank higher in both stats.

Miami has also had 11 players make at least nine starts in 2021-22, a testament to its depth and next-man-up mentality. While a team like Golden State has had more players (13) start in general, only eight had nine or more starts.

Even with deep reserves earning significant playing time, the Heat have strung together a top-7 offense and defense. And their overall stats should only rise the longer Butler, Adebayo, and Lowry all play together. Plus, on top of everything else, two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo could make his season debut by the season week of March, according to ESPN.

With multiple All-Stars, a deep bench, and the longest-tenured head coach in the conference, the Heat have all the makings of a future champion. Especially if they receive a bit of injury luck for a change.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

RELATED: Jimmy Butler Bashes the NBA For Being Soft, Perfectly Explaining Why He Is the Ultimate Leader for the Heat