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The Miami Heat’s excitement was palpable after ending their five-game losing skid with a victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.
“The Heat,” Tyler Herro said, “is back on.”
Back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings and contending for the NBA Finals like they were last season? Not quite yet.
But getting back in the win column for the first time in over a week and having their All-Star forward in Jimmy Butler back on the floor after a 10-game absence due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols has given the Heat optimism that better days are ahead.
“It’s a start,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We just have to continue to forge ahead.
“Our spirit has been lifted. It feels different than it did two weeks ago.”
Butler’s return to gameplay — and his 30-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound performance in the Heat’s first win since Jan. 20 against the Toronto Raptors — showed how much the team missed him, with Miami going 2-8 during the 10-game stretch he missed.
“It’s a big relief to be able to have him back on both ends of the floor,” Herro said. “He impacts the game in such a big way.”
Butler made it clear he missed his teammates, too.
“I just want to compete,” he said. “That’s it. I want to be with my guys. We’re in this thing together. I realize, I think I’m a decent player and I give us maybe a little bit better of a chance to win. I respect them for how hard they play and how they never give up. I’m just glad that I can be back. I’m glad that I can help and be around my dudes.”
Butler, who didn’t disclose whether he tested positive for COVID-19 and was cleared from the league’s protocols early last week, credited trainers James Scott, Stanley Remy and Armando Rivas for helping him be ready to play again after not being with the team for two weeks and not playing for nearly three.
“I got a good group that really helped me focus in on what I needed to be doing,” said Butler, who played 34 minutes Saturday. “I felt like I was ready to go.”
Now that he’s back in the team’s rotation, Butler sees plenty of areas the Heat need to improve in.
“We got a lot better to get if we want to talk about winning the championship,” he said. “Right now, our habits are just really bad. When we tell each other face-to-face we can be better and hold each other accountable, it’s a step in the right direction.”
And with the opportunity to establish a level of continuity for the first time since the beginning of January, the Heat are confident they’ll continue taking those positive steps.
“The sun finally came out,” Bam Adebayo said. “Like I always said, we were going to figure it out. Right now we are 1-0 and we are going to ride with that.”
Too close of a call
The NBA said the Heat’s win over the Kings most likely shouldn’t have come down to Sacramento’s final possession.
In the league’s last two minute report, the NBA stated that Duncan Robinson was fouled on his 3-point attempt by De’Aaron Fox with 6.2 seconds left in the game. If the foul was called, Robinson would’ve gone to the throw line for three free-throw attempts with the Heat leading, 105-104.
Instead, the Heat were called for a 24-second violation, giving Richaun Holmes the opportunity to make a game-winner before Adebayo blocked his shot at the buzzer to give the Heat the win.
“We easily could’ve lost this game,” Herro said, “but we feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”