Monday Morning in Miami: The Heat's Race to Get Healthy
Plus, what Sunday's loss says about the Miami Dolphins' seven-game win streak.
Happy Monday and Happy New Year! In today’s newsletter, the Miami Heat and Miami Dolphins both saw win streaks come to an end over the weekend, Mario Chalmers awaits playing time and help is on the way for the Heat.
Catch Up Quick
The Miami Dolphins’ seven-game win streak came to an end Sunday with a 34-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Later that afternoon, Miami was eliminated from the playoffs when the LA Chargers beat the Denver Broncos. The Dolphins (8-8) face the New England Patriots (10-6) in their regular-season finale.
The Miami Heat (23-14) also had a win streak end, this one at five games, with a 115-113 road loss to the Sacramento Kings. Despite giving up the most points since Dec. 4, they had a chance to force overtime late but Jimmy Butler’s potential game-tying layup rimmed out as regulation time expired.
Before Sunday’s loss in Sacramento, the Heat had its game Wednesday in San Antonio postponed when they failed to meet the league-required eight active players. After filling out the roster with players on 10-day contracts, the Heat defeated the Houston Rockets Friday behind Butler’s 37 points and a surprising contribution from recently-signed Kyle Guy (17 points, four assists and four rebounds in 24 minutes).
Among the players the Heat signed to a 10-day contract: One Mario Chalmers. Chalmers, who played most of his entire career with the Heat, has yet to play since being signed out of the G League late last week. Still, just getting back onto an NBA roster is a huge accomplishment for a 35-year-old who hasn’t played since rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2016.
Elsewhere in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls (24-10) are atop the Eastern Conference standings after DeMar DeRozan hit not one, but two, game-winning 3s at the buzzer over the long New Year weekend.
The Heat’s Race to Get Healthy
As disappointing as it was, Sunday’s loss in Sacramento was more than anything a harbinger that the Heat’s battalion of 10-day contract signees and overlooked role players that have been so impressive the past couple of weeks is finally meeting its limits.
Beyond the five starters, Miami relied on four players (Kyle Guy, Chris Silva, Haywood Highsmith and Nik Stauskas) who hadn’t played for the Heat prior to this week to chip in 65 combined minutes and two developmental players in Omer Yurtseven and Caleb Martin to assume starting roles. Miami’s bench was outscored 48 to 19 in Sunday’s 115-113 loss to the Kings.
While Miami’s role players have done good work to keep the team afloat amid sporadic absences from key rotation players, that work was largely done during a soft schedule. Before Sunday’s loss, the Heat had won seven of their previous eight games during a stretch that included just two teams over .500 and did so with Jimmy Butler missing five of those games, Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson missing two, Tyler Herro missing three and P.J. Tucker missing six.
But the schedule ramps up in difficulty this week, with upcoming road games against the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns. The Heat are starting to get healthy at the right time — with Butler, Lowry and Herro all playing Sunday in Sacramento — but will still rely on several role players who were not expected to contribute coming into the season for significant minutes.
Chief among them is Yurtseven, the 23-year-old center who was considered a development project during training camp and listed as the third center on the depth chart. But with Dewayne Dedmon sidelined for four games with a knee injury and Bam Adebayo still out after undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his right thumb in early December, Yurtseven has been thrust into the starting lineup.
In four starts against Orlando, Washington, Houston and Sacramento, Yurtseven posted double-doubles and career-highs with 22 points and 16 rebounds against the Kings. But the Warriors and Suns are not the Kings. These teams have the best records in the NBA and present huge challenges for a young big man. Golden State likes to run 7-footers off the floor, while Utah’s big Rudy Gobert threatens to swallow a rookie center.
Players such as Martin (starting in place of Tucker), Guy (impressive in two appearances since signing a 10-day) and Silva, Stauskas and Highsmith (10-day contract players who all played meaningul minutes over the weekend) will also be tested.
Fortunately for the Heat, Butler and Lowry are back. This weekend, they played together for the first time since Dec. 6. More help may be on the way. Dedmon and forward KZ Okpala are close to returning, with both considered day-to-day, and each of the six players currently in the NBA’s health and safety protocols could come back this week.
Max Strus and Udonis Haslem’s five-day quarantine ran through Sunday and could test out of protocols as soon as tonight’s game in San Francisco, while all of Tucker, Robinson, Gabe Vincent and Marcus Garrett could be back in time for Wedensday’s game in Portland. By the time the Heat play the Suns Saturday, they could have everyone except for Adebayo, Markieff Morris (whiplash) and Victor Oladipo (knee surgery) back in the lineup.
Winning in Golden State or Phoenix would mark signature wins for a team that has managed to remain in the top four in the East.
Looking ahead, getting Adebayo back would complete Miami’s starting lineup that hasn’t played together since Nov. 27. Adebayo’s recovery timeline has him returning in mid-January, and he’s been with the team during its current trip. During games, he stays engaged by coaching teammates and he’s been working out with the team behind the scenes.
“There’s no way to really know for sure,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday, “but I think it speeds up recovery to be around the guys, and having that human interaction is helping his hand heal a little quicker.”
The Heat return from its 15-day trip to a four-game homestand that starts Jan. 14 against the Atlanta Hawks. That marks Adebayo’s earliest potential return date, and also the point when Miami’s schedule gets significantly easier. The Heat play 25 of their final 40 games at home against opponents with an average win percentage of 47.1 — the third easiest remaining schedule in the league.
By mid-January and as long as they avoid other injuries and protocols, the Heat could be healthy and in better position than they were to start the season. After all, the silver lining to this wave of injuries has been that bench players such as Yurtseven, Martin, Vincent and Strus have shown they can contribute at a high level.
What was once considered a team short on depth suddenly appears to be one of the deeper teams in the NBA and well-positioned to make a run in the seasons’ second half.
Time to Breath
Well, the party’s over, people.
The Dolphins lost Sunday, bringing to an end an exciting win streak and any hopes of a playoff berth.
And while that seven-game win streak and inclusion of the Dolphins logo in “In the Hunt” graphics during broadcasts was fun for a few weeks, it’s time to get back to reality.
Which is this: The Dolphins lost as many games in a row as they won, and there’s no way to know if this team is closer to the one we watched in the first eight weeks of the season or the one over the eight weeks prior to this weekend.
If Sunday’s drubbing to the Titans is any indication, it may be the former. Tua Tagovailoa had trouble completing passes and holding onto the ball. Instead of posting a completion percentage of over 70%, as had become the norm during the win streak, he was an inaccurate 18 for 38 for 205 yards. That, along with three fumbles and zero touchdowns, resuscitated questions about his future with the organization.
“I’ve heard that since the day I’ve been here,” Tagovailoa told reporters about the doubts. “I can only control what I can control.”
This is where everyone needs to take a breath. One game alone shouldn’t prompt the about-face seen by Dolphins fans and media. As I and several others wrote the past few weeks, Tagovailoa has shown enough this season to earn the QB1 job next season. A strong game in New England to close the season will help his case, but it’s too early for Deshaun Watson to be trending again in Miami — as he was Sunday evening.
Rather, the core flaw of this team is the same one we’d been pointing to during the losing streak: An offensive line constructed by a front office that has missed too many times in the draft.
Through this weekend, Tagovailoa is afforded the shortest window between getting the snap and getting pressured in the league, according to pro-football-reference.com, and is pressured on 20.3% of his throws — nearly twice as much as Tom Brady.
The Dolphins just have to fix this offensive line before they can make any leap. Tagovailoa was sacked four times in Tennessee and while some of that is certainly on him, Miami’s offensive tackles have been among the worst in the league all season. It could be argued that Tagovailoa has done as much as possible with such a leaky line.
On Sunday, Tagovailoa found Jaylen Waddle on a deep post down the left sideline, the kind of throw critics said is outside Tagovailoa’s skillset. If given more time next season, Tagovailoa will have more chances to make these kinds of throws to Waddle (who is becoming one of the premier receivers in the league), Mike Gesicki and DeVante Parker (who came alive in Tennessee).
And the defense? Yeah, it didn’t have a great game. But does that erase everything the unit has shown over the past few weeks? Even when considering the shoddy quarterback play on the other side, coach Brian Flores dials up sophisticated blitz packages, the team gets pressure and the secondary is still an above-average position group that includes up-and-coming rookie Jevon Holland.
What I’m saying is that there’s something to build on, and one loss doesn’t erase that.
The Dolphins aren’t a Super Bowl contender. Far from it. Even if they had won Sunday and somehow gotten into the postseason, it’s unlikely they would have won their first playoff game since 2000.
That’s the most realistic assessment of this team. Not exactly the one seen during the seven-game win streak, but not completely broken either.
Rather, the Dolphins are somewhere in the middle, hovering around .500. Exactly where we thought they would be heading into the season. There’s no reason to make any drastic conclusions.
It was nice while it lasted (Reddit)
Do you know how hard it is to back down an NBA player from the free-throw line? Jimmy Butler is straight-up mean for this.
And some Kyle Guy highlights because I know you want them.
Locked On Heat
Over at the Locked On Heat YouTube page, David Ramil and I set a goal to get to 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year. Guess what… we did it! And I do mean we. Without the support of the listeners, we couldn’t have reached our goal, which saw the page grow from hardly any subscribers to 1,000 in three month’s time. A huge W.
The Wes Side is a reader-supported newsletter. Please consider subscribing and taking an active role in my independent coverage. Feel free to forward this post to family and friends. All subscriptions, for now, are free and every article is delivered directly to your inbox.