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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
15 Apr 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:Dave Hyde: Heat and Panthers go into playoffs armed with slingshots against No. 1 seeds

Everyone else on the Miami Heat should pick up Jimmy Butler and Max Strus and carry them into Milwaukee for giving them a chance to re-write the conclusion to this season and, with it, their own personal standing in it.

After the Heat’s play-in win Friday night set up Sunday’s Game 1 in Milwaukee against the Bucks, the talk around the Heat began with Butler’s big-game impact and ended with Strus’s big night. They were something. They were everything, actually.

Nobody talked about Bam Adebayo’s shrinking offense against taller players.

Nobody talked how Tyler Herro was oddly content to work the fringes of the game.

Nobody talked about the lack of a bench or how no one’s untouchable anymore on this team, as Heat president Pat Riley surely knows for whenever this cold offseason comes. And it’s coming, isn’t it?

Butler and Strus each scored 31 points Friday, each had game-tilting moments in the closing minutes as the Heat staved off what would have been another embarrassing play-in loss at home. They’re in the playoffs now. They’re also bigger underdogs against the top seed than the Florida Panthers are at a historically-great Boston Bruins team.

So, this is where we are in South Florida sports: Both were No. 1 seeds last year after great regular seasons, and they now squeaked into the playoffs as eighth seeds. The Panthers at least enter with momentum the Heat don’t. But each is armed with a rock and a slingshot, and the hope they’ll matter against their respective sport’s best teams.

“We’ve got to play damn near perfect basketball,” Butler said of playing Milwaukee.

That’s true. But even that might not be enough considering what the Heat and Panthers are up against. Milwaukee was the best team in the NBA this season, and 14 wins better than the Heat. Boston had a historic 135 points this season to translate to 21 more wins than the Panthers.

This will either be a Florida-Atlantic-to-the-Final-Four kind of surprise or, well, almost nightly torture. Look at the schedule:

Sunday: Tired Heat at a rested Milwaukee;

Monday: Hopeful Panthers at waiting Boston;

Wednesday: A double-header of Heat and Panthers against top seeds.

And so on, and on, night after night until we get to four or five games. You have to be open to an upset, especially in the NHL where the eighth seed has beaten the top seed 19 times (the NHL stopped listing seeds but the records still spell it out).

The NBA is the most predictable league of them all. An eighth seed has only beat the top seed four times. It’s a once-a-decade occasion, too, as the last time was 2011 when Memphis upset San Antonio.

“Everybody in this room has confidence that we can beat anybody in the league,” Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg said.

He should, too. It’s for the rest of us to tell what an upset it would be. The Panthers are building, too. An abrupt change of systems meant they struggled the first few months before coming on strong to make the playoffs. They’ll have an added $8 million in salary cap this offseason to buy a needed defenseman or two.

So a good series against Boston would say something more for the Panthers than it would if the Heat challenge Milwaukee. If you know Butler rises to the postseason, you wonder if Adebayo has the game to do so.

A game after complaining he didn’t get the ball enough in scoring 12 points against Atlanta, Adebayo shot 1-of-9 with one field goal and eight points against Chicago. That’s not to say he didn’t help. He had 17 rebounds and played what coach Erik Spoelstra called “electric” defense. But that’s the work of a strong role player, not an NBA star.

Herro? He had 26 points against Atlanta and 12 points against Chicago. Offense is the reason he’s on the court, too, considering teams attack him on defense.

Butler, Adebayo, Herro and Kyle Lowry are the Heat’s big contracts, too. Lowry kept the Heat in the game against Atlanta. He then re-injured the knee against Chicago that kept him out chunks of this season. That’s the story of aging players.

“Our team has not been perfect this year,” Spoelstra said. “But I know one thing about the men in that locker room. I know how categorically and unequivocally our group wanted to get into this damn thing, to get into the playoffs and have an opportunity to compete for a damn title.”

You can appreciate that. You also know what’s coming, night after night, as the Heat and Panthers go up against better teams: An upset for the ages — or torture.