January looked to be the month that could make or break the Spurs’ season. They would either continue to build on the positives from a solid December, or they were going to crumble during a month where they were scheduled to play as many as 9 games against playoff teams, including this current 4-game road trip early in the month against 3 of the Eastern Conference’s top 4 seeds. Outside of the game in Memphis (who is also currently a playoff team) where they were both out-hustled and out-shot, the Spurs have played some inspiring basketball during this stretch of games, including a dominant performance against the Boston Celtics and a wild, come-from-behind win against the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
That road trip ends tonight on South Beach against the Miami Heat. This is the first of two games these teams will play against each other in a 5-day span, as the Heat will make their way to San Antonio for an early tip-off this coming Sunday. Miami, which is 27-12 on the year and currently sits in 3rd place in the Eastern conference standings, has been dominant at home all season, as their 17-1 home record suggests. They are averaging 8.1 more points at home (116.1) than they are on the road (108.0), where they sit below .500 with a 10-11 record after back to back losses to the New York teams over the weekend.
If the Spurs want to head home with a 3-1 record on this road trip, they will have to find a way to limit the play of 3rd year breakout Bam Adebayo and their summer free agent acquisition, Jimmy Butler.
San Antonio Spurs (17-21) at Miami Heat (27-12)
January 15, 2020 | 6:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Heat Injuries: Justise Winslow (back — OUT)
“He told me I wasn’t ready”
Bam Adebayo has had a breakout year for the Heat. In his 3rd season in the league, Adebayo is averaging career-highs across the board and has been a major impact player for Miami on both ends of the court with athleticism that allows him the rare ability to check both front and backcourt players and a skillset that finds him just as comfortable out on the perimeter as he is inside. One of the better stories of the season was reading his reaction to finding out that head coach Erik Spoelstra was assigning him to Houston Rockets’ guard Russell Westbrook from the get-go in a contest between the two teams in November. His full array of skills was on display last Friday night in Miami’s loss to the Nets:
Adebayo’s phenomenal season comes on the heels of a summer in which he was cut from the Team USA roster. That team, as you surely know, is coached by none other than Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich. Adebayo recently opened up about being cut from that roster to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald:
He said “I wasn’t ready,” Adebayo told me. “Everybody has their opinions, so I guess it was his opinion I wasn’t ready.”
Did Pop say anything else? “Nah,” Adebayo said.
Adebayo’s reaction? “Whatever. I got a big season coming up and I shifted my mindset to worrying about the season.”
So will Adebayo have any extra motivation when the Heat plays the Spurs on Wednesday in Miami and in San Antonio next Sunday? That, after all, would be human nature.
“It’s human nature,” Adebayo agreed. “I’m looking to go at anybody. It’s not just the Spurs and Pop. I’m trying to take the league by storm, help this team win and try to win a championship.”
Adebayo has had a great year following that moment in the summer. The Spurs will need to keep their guard up against not only a very good player, but one with possibly a personal chip on their shoulder.
The impact of Jimmy Butler
Speaking to Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps of ESPN, head coach Erik Spoelstra explained that Miami was looking to, “have a guy that we believe can take us to a different level.” Butler has done just that, leading Miami to their 27-12 record. He’s been a revelation for them at the end of games as well, helping the Heat to go a perfect 6-0 in overtime games played.
Throughout his career, Butler has earned a reputation as a resilient, hard worker. Initially coming into the league as more of a defensive guy, his offense has continued to grow year in and year out. This year, he’s taken on even more of a play-making role, averaging a career-best 6.5 assists a game against just 2.5 turnovers and while his 3-point shooting has been down this season (just 26.4% on 2.7 attempts a game, his worst since the 28% he shot his 3rd season in the league), he has made up for it with more trips to the free throw line than ever before. Butler is averaging 9.6 free throw attempts per game (career-high) at an 83% clip. He is also among the better clutch players in the NBA, ranking Top 15 in a handful of clutch per game statistics, including points, shots taken and made, free throws taken and made, and assists.
The Spurs will need to do what they can to limit Butler’s impact on the game. Luckily, they have a more than a few options to throw at him. Expect DeMar DeRozan or Dejounte Murray to draw the initial assignment before reserves Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV are thrown to the fire.
Vegas Line: Miami -5.5, O/U 221.5
For the Heat fans’ perspective, visit Hot Hot Hoops.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.