The Miami Heat Are Who We Thought They Were as the League’s Most Dominant Defense Is Obliterating the NBA

The Miami Heat have blasted out of the gates in 2021-22. Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo, and Co. have started this season 6-1, putting them atop the Eastern Conference with the surprising Chicago Bulls. Nothing about this Miami team should come as a shock, though.

The Heat made their offseason acquisitions with defense in mind, and it’s that side of the floor that has gotten them off to a fiery (pun intended, sorry) start.

But that was the expectation heading into the season — if Miami were going to legitimately challenge for a championship, it would have to do so with defense. And boy, are the Heat taking care of business.

Miami’s defense has been spectacular

The Heat have been a complete team to start the year. Defensively they’re the best team in the NBA, but Miami’s offense hasn’t been far behind. The team’s average of 115.6 points per game is second in the league.

The Heat are also top 10 in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and free-throw percentage.

Only the Bulls and Utah Jazz have as many wins through the first 15 days of the season.

When the organization went out and acquired Lowry from Toronto, the hope was that the 15-year veteran would provide stability, defense, leadership, and toughness at the point guard spot. And he has.

But Lowry, along with third-year guard Tyler Herro, has provided a somewhat unexpected spark on offense, without which Miami isn’t at the top of the East.

Defense is where the team is making its living, though.

The Miami Heat are at or near the top of the league in almost every defensive category

Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry, who lead the Miami Heat defense, laugh with teammate Markieff Morris.
Jimmy Butler, Markieff Morris, and Kyle Lowry of the Miami Heat laugh during a game against the Boston Celtics. | Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Yes, the Heat have been fantastic scoring the ball. But check out these defensive rankings.

Miami is No. 1 in the NBA in:

  • Defensive rating
  • Defensive rebounds
  • Defensive rebounding percentage
  • Opponent made field goals

Miami is No. 2 in the NBA in:

  • Opponent points off turnovers
  • Opponent second-chance points
  • Opponent points in the paint
  • Opponent field goal percentage
  • Opponent rebounds

Miami is shutting down opposing offenses, grabbing rebounds, getting back in transition, and protecting the paint. The Heat are outscoring teams by nearly 17 points a night, even with a loss on the ledger.

The famous “Heat Culture” takes a lot of heat (pun intended again), but there’s a reason why it exists. It starts from the top with President Pat Riley, who has an affinity for tough, defensive-minded players. Head coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the best in the league at molding those players into a team and system.

Then it trickles down to Butler, Miami’s leader, and now Lowry, Adebayo, Herro, and the rest of the squad. But defense is at the heart of everything the Heat do.

If Butler and Lowry continue to lead the charge on defense, Miami will still be playing come July

Butler, Herro, Adebayo, and Lowry are all averaging double figures in scoring. It’s reasonable to assume that Miami comes at least slightly back to Earth on offense at some point.

But the ingredients are there for a sustainably dominant defense.

If that’s the case — if Butler and Lowry stay healthy, if Adebayo continues to be a swiss-army knife, if the Heat can get legitimate minutes from Markieff Morris and PJ Tucker — there’s no reason they can’t be genuine title contenders.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com

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