Spoelstra looks to take Miami Heat to a higher level in second half

The differences between last year’s Miami Heat team and this year’s are not hard to find. Look no further than the standings.

Through 57 games, Miami sat sixth in the NBA’s Eastern Conference last weekend, taking a 32-25 record into the league’s final week before the All-Star break. The Heat — on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season — were five games better at that point, holding a record of 37-20, while also sitting in control of the top seed in the conference.

This year has been a much different story. The Heat are toggling between the No. 5 and 6 seeds in the playoff picture, and may well find themselves in the NBA Play-In Tournament, where they’ll have to earn a postseason bid after the regular season ends.

When comparing the two rosters, it is difficult to pinpoint why there has been such a steep drop-off in production, seeing as so many of the same players remain on the squad. But now that the NBA Trading Deadline has passed, and with the league about to end the schedule’s first half, the Heat will have to find the right mix soon.

“Hopefully, this pain will drive us to a higher level, we need to get to a higher level,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said in a press conference. “We need to get to a better level collectively. Hopefully, that anger drives us to a better place moving forward.”

The Heat’s longtime coach has shown his fair share of frustration at the podium in his 15th season at the helm. While Miami’s defense has performed relatively close to last year’s level, the offensive inconsistencies have become a concern.

At this point last season, Miami had the ninth-best offense in the league with a 112.2 offensive rating, good for a 4.8 net rating overall. Now, the Heat sit 26th in the league with a 111.2 offensive rating and a zero net rating to separate their offense and defense. At first glance, the one-point difference doesn’t seem very significant. However, looking deeper into the numbers, Miami’s inability to keep up with the rest of the league, which has all seemingly evolved their offense, is troublesome.

Team president Pat Riley and the Heat’s front office had a relatively quiet summer which made one thing clear: They believe this squad has what it takes to win. With last season falling just short of an NBA Finals run, the Heat decided to run things back with mostly the same core.

P.J. Tucker was the biggest name to leave in free agency, however, the 37-year-old forward was only averaging 7.6 points per game at the time, and was primarily on the floor for his defensive prowess, with intangibles that didn’t show up in the box score.

So if Tucker didn’t provide much on the offensive side, that still leaves the same question unanswered: Why is Miami’s offense so poor?

“We just keep getting stagnant,” a defeated Bam Adebayo said in a locker room media availability. “The ball is getting stiff out there.”

Miami has dropped from an effective field goal percentage of 54.4 (EFG%) in 2021, to 52.1% this season. Additionally, the Heat’s true shooting percentage (TS%) was 57.7% last year, compared to 56.3% now. While the margins seem thin, Miami went from within the top six in both categories last year, to the 25th and 27th ranked in the two now.

And Adebayo is accurate. Miami’s assist numbers have fallen off a cliff averaging 25.9 at this point last year to 23.5 right now. A large part of that could again be shots simply not falling at the same clip. If the advanced shooting statistics weren’t convincing enough, after 56 games last year, Miami led the league with a 37.7 three-point percentage to just 33.5% this year.

Riley didn’t make any major moves at the deadline, so what Spoelstra has in the locker room is what he will deal with the rest of the way. And while the Heat’s offensive struggles have been alarming and contagious, one good run late in the year could change it all. 

Spoelstra and the Heat have their work cut out for them, especially in a clogged East. But some streaky shooting down the stretch – from players clearly capable of getting hot – might lead to a late-season miracle in Miami.

Anthony Blanco is a senior majoring in Digital Journalism with hopes of pursuing a career in sports journalism. Anthony is passionate about covering sports and hopes to one day make his passion his profession.