Expectations were high for the Heat at the start of the 2020-21 campaign after reaching the NBA Finals in the bubble. Things didn't go as planned, though, due in large part to an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the league in points per game and offensive rating.
After being swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami's front office went to work. Kyle Lowry was added in a sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors. P.J. Tucker left the NBA champions to join the Heat.
All of these moves mean the Heat are locked in with this nucleus for the foreseeable future.
With their roster set, here's a look at the notable takeaways from the schedule that the team will face in its quest to get back to the postseason.
2021-22 Heat Regular Season Schedule
Season Opener: vs. Milwaukee Bucks, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. ET
Championship Odds: +2400 (FanDuel)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
vs. Milwaukee Bucks (First game: Oct. 21)
The Bucks and Heat have met in the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Miami dominated the Bucks in the 2020 Eastern Conference semifinals in five games, which prompted Milwaukee's front office to make the aggressive trade to acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans.
The deal paid off, with the Bucks winning their first NBA title in 50 years. The Heat were their first hurdle in the playoffs, though the final result from that series suggests they were more of a speed bump.
Milwaukee won all four games by an average of 20.5 points. Game 1 was the only matchup decided by fewer than 17 points (109-107).
The main difference between the two teams last season was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bucks led the NBA in points per game (120.1) and ranked sixth in rating (117.2). The Heat were 18th in rating (111.2) and 25th in points per game (108.1).
Just as the Bucks reacted to their loss by making changes to the roster, so did the Heat this offseason. Lowry was brought in to run the offense and boost the defense.
If you combine their three regular-season meetings, the Heat went 1-6 against Milwaukee in 2020-21. The Bucks are, in some ways, the idealized version of what Miami would like to be. They have dominant big men capable of taking over at any moment with All-Stars at the guard and forward spots.
at Brooklyn Nets (First game: Oct. 27)
Even though the Bucks are the reigning NBA champions, the Brooklyn Nets are the standard by which all other teams in the Eastern Conference will be measured.
There's a strong argument that Brooklyn would have defeated the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Nets were up 2-0 in the series, with Harden getting injured in the first minute of Game 1. Kyrie Irving injured his ankle in Game 4 and missed the final three games.
Brooklyn also got better in the offseason with the addition of Patty Mills to the bench.
All of that talent suggests the Nets should be a force in the east. At the very least, they should have the best offensive team in the NBA.
The Heat could have the best defensive team in the NBA, led by Butler, Lowry, Tucker and Bam Adebayo. Tucker did an excellent job of containing Durant in their head-to-head matchups in the postseason.
It seems unlikely anyone will stop Brooklyn from scoring, but if any team can contain that collection of talent, it's the Heat. Their matchups during the regular season should be knockdown, drag-out affairs.
There's little doubt, assuming their key players are healthy for most of the year, that the Heat are a playoff team.
How high they climb in the standings is the question mark. Heat president Pat Riley clearly believes in this group as a title contender, based on them carrying the seventh-highest payroll in the NBA.
The addition of Lowry certainly makes them a better team than if they had run things back with Goran Dragic as their point guard. The six-time All-Star should help improve Miami's three-point shooting after the team ranked 19th in three-point percentage (35.8) last season.
Lowry shot 39.6 percent from behind the arc for the Toronto Raptors. The Heat will also be counting on Tyler Herro playing closer to the form he showed as a rookie (38.9 percent from three) than in 2020-21 (36.0 percent).
Another way that Lowry helps the offense is in his passing ability. Dragic has always been more of a shoot-first guard throughout his career. Lowry has averaged at least 6.4 assists in each of the past 11 seasons. His skill as a facilitator will lead to more open looks for Robinson and Herro.
It speaks to how deep the Eastern Conference is right now that the Heat will be a very good team but may not be able to crack the top three in the final standings. They are going to be a difficult opponent every night because of their toughness and how Erik Spoelstra coaches them up.
Record Prediction: 48-34
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