After reaching the NBA Finals last season, there were high expectations for the Miami Heat. However, the team has failed to meet the lofty benchmark they set for themselves. The team didn't make any big acquisitions in free agency and has struggled in a loaded Eastern Conference. They finished the season 44-38, taking the seventh overall seed in the playoffs. However, the Heat finished strong, winning four of their five last games in the regular season. Ultimately, they finished one game behind the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
However, Jimmy Butler has once again shone as the team's brightest star. The veteran small forward leads the team in points per game (22.9) and assists per game (5.3). Much like their Finals run last year, Butler has carried the team, playing in and starting 64 games. Only Bam Adebayo (75) and Tyler Herro (67) have more starts than Butler. Butler also posted the second-highest points per game of his career, his best average since the 2016/17 season. It was also the first time he played at least 60 games since the 2018/19 season.
Butler Backs The Heat
Speaking to ESPN, Butler shut down any doubt about whether the Heat could repeat their run to the finals. "Nope. It's all the same." was Butler's concise answer when asked if he was embracing the Heat being the "underdog" after being the 1-seed last year. "Didn't nobody pick us to win last year, either. So who cares. Y'all not going to pick us this year, still don't give a damn. In 10 years, y'all still not going to pick us. Still don't give a damn." Butler continued.
Butler was the powerhouse of the Heat's run a year ago and his comments are a clear indicator of where his mentality is for 2023. If he's still playing basketball, the Heat are still winning. If the Heat are still winning, they can still win the championship. That said, it will be a much different road compared to 2022. To begin, the Heat must defend their seventh-seed status against the Atlanta Hawks. If they can, it would set up an Eastern Conference Finals rematch against the Celtics. But one thing is clear, Jimmy Butler sees the playoffs as the playoffs, regardless of seeding.