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The Heat Way was always going to be put to the test with LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Lakers opposing them in this year’s NBA Finals.
Only now that test has been ratcheted up another few levels.
Already down 1-0 in the series, the Heat will head into Game 2 with both point guard Goran Dragic and starting centre Bam Adebayo listed as doubtful to participate.
Oh, and don’t forget the rolled ankle that Jimmy Butler is planning to just play through, too.
The Heat Way is a no-nonsense approach to conditioning and professionalism that on most nights gives Miami an edge over its opponents.
Opponents might be more talented — and trust us, the Lakers are with two of the top four or five players in the game today on the roster — but normally the Heat can count on that grit equalizer to even up the odds.
Losing Dragic, who is out with a tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot, hurts because few point guards have his combination of toughness and overall game. On this front, the Heat are a bit fortunate to have rookie Kendrick Nunn to turn to in their time of need. Nunn started all 67 regular-season games in Miami before the braintrust settled on a condensed rotation that would see the veteran Dragic take over those starting point guard duties through these playoffs.
Nunn, whose own bout of COVID-19 helped re-open that door for Dragic to start again, has been fully healed for some time now but with the Heat finding a nice rhythm with Dragic back in the starting role, Nunn has spent the better part of the past month as a reserve coming off the bench or, as was the case in the final three games of the Celtics’ series, a mere spectator.
If Dragic can’t go, which seems likely, Nunn would be the obvious choice to take over his minutes as he did for the second half of the Game 1 loss.
Adebayo, if he can’t go, would be the more costly loss. Already at a size disadvantage against a gigantic Lakers roster, the Heat would lose their primary rim-protector in addition to a ferocious rebounder and a pretty adept scorer.
Again, the Heat would have an answer in the next-man-up-up question with Canadian Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard capable of taking over, but neither is as athletic or as good a defensive rim protector as Adebayo.
Adebayo already sustained and came back from a shoulder injury in these playoffs. This injury is a neck issue on the same side as the previous shoulder injury, but a new one.
“At this point, it’s all hands on deck,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday, “and it’s not like the guys that were potentially sliding into the rotation haven’t played before. These guys have confidence and have played big roles for us all year long. Our depth has been one of our biggest strengths. It’s not just coach speak. We’ve utilized our depth all year long.”
Spoelstra and Butler and pretty much every other Heat player that spoke on Thursday lamented the potential absences but came across fully prepared to pass the torch to the next guy — in the case of Dragic and Adebayo, those guys likely being Nunn and Olynyk, or possibly Leonard.
At least as equally concerning was the need to match the Lakers from a physical standpoint.
The Heat Way in Game 1 was not just strayed from, it was co-opted by the Lakers who were the tougher, more physical team all night.
“They weren’t uncomfortable in any way, shape or form,” Butler said of the Lakers. “They threw the ball where they wanted to throw the ball. They got to where they wanted to get to on the floor. That’s not the way we’re supposed to play as an organization, as a team.
“The Miami Heat is supposed to be way more physical, way more tough,” Butler continued. “And if you give a team with that much talent that type of confidence, good luck. So, moving forward, we have got to switch that up.”
Butler, as far as health goes, said he fully intends to play. That’s not a question. But how effective he can be on an ankle that he rolled over pretty badly remains to be seen.
Butler, though, considers it all part of the process.
“They say when it’s bad — when it rains, it pours,” Butler said. “All in all, though, we’re still expected to win. We got here for a reason. We realize we belong. But we also realize how well we have to play on both ends of the floor to give ourselves a chance to win.”
That was the situation coming in and it’s the situation now, although with a 1-0 deficit and potentially two key starters not there to help carry the load.
The Heat Way will be challenged like never before facing that kind of adversity.
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