The Launching Pad: Potential Play-in Opponents & Their Clutch Offense Struggles Breakdown

Insight2 months ago12 min readJohn Jablonka

Welcome, welcome, welcome! Here’s this week’s Launching Pad — a weekly round-up where you’ll get everything that you need to know about what happened with the Miami Heat. Everything here will bring you up to speed with all of the games and news you missed by expanding on all of that through deep dives, stats, discussions, analysis, and film breakdown.

Games from the week

  • 92-111 loss vs Dallas Mavericks
  • 117-111 win vs Atlanta Hawks
  • 115-117 loss vs Indiana Pacers
  • 119-104 win vs Houston Rockets

Stats from the week, Per Cleaning the Glass

  • Offensive rating: 113.2 (103.4, 106.4, 122.3, 121.1)
  • Defensive rating: 112.6 (123.9, 110.9, 123.2, 105.3)
  • Net rating: +0.6
  • eFG%: 54.0% vs 51.2%
  • TOV%: 13.0% vs 9.5%
  • ORB%: 21.9% vs 24.5%
  • FTr: 22.3 vs 17.3

Play-In Opponents

So, the Heat are likely to be in the play-in, but we have no idea who that’s going to be — all we know is there are three possibilities, the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, and Orlando Magic. We’re likely going to find out in a day or two.

But which team do we want to see(stats per Cleaning the Glass):

  • 76ers: +2.5 net(11th), 116.9 ORTG(14th), 114.4 DRTG(11th)
    • With Joel Embiid: +8.4, 120.5, 112.1
  • Pacers: +2.5(12th), 121.3(2nd), 118.9(24th)
  • Magic: +2.2(15th), 113.8(22nd), 111.6(2nd)

Three very different opponents. You have the best overall team if you’re seeing the 76ers with Embiid playing. That is definitely the best team that you probably don’t want to see.

The Heat have split the series with the 76ers, but I don’t know much those games matter with both teams missing players and one of the games had Kyle Lowry on the Heat. Their last game, which was with both teams relatively healthy(Heat were missing Herro), ended with a tough loss. That was a wild rollercoaster of a game and I have no idea what to make of it going forward.

But this would be the opponent that I could see going either way in a one-game series.

Then you have the Pacers. They lost the series and they couldn’t defend anything. These are the defensive ratings posted by the Heat — 122.7, 144.5(!!!), 123.4.

The Heat’s defense will be tested here. They’ve struggled to contain their ball handlers. TJ McConnell turned into Michael Jordan. Tyrese Haliburton had a career night. It was just rough. On the other hand, this should be the easiest game for the Heat to score. This should be a game where they could get what they want on offense with an engaged team.

Finally, we have the Magic. As different of a team as you can get. I’m guaranteeing this game will finish sub 90 for both teams. I can just see the score being 85-87, whilst shooting sub 40% from the field. There’s no other way for this game to go.

The Magic are a ridiculous defensive team with size, length, and everyone moving well everywhere. This would probably be the toughest matchup for the Heat’s lackluster offense. Even with an engaged Butler, nothing would come easy for him or anyone else on this team. And that worries me.

But, they are a young, inexperienced team that is also struggling on offense. With that in mind, I think that makes their playoff chances cut short. If this is going to be a game in the mud, I don’t know how much I’ll trust them as opposed to the vets and Spoelstra.

Though their defense and the Heat’s offensive struggles everywhere have me questioning that decision.

Clutch Offense Struggles

Ah, it’s back. The struggles once the games are close and you need a bucket in a tied game are back(to be fair, they’ve never gone away this year). This is something they’ve struggled with from the very first game of the season against the Detroit Pistons.

Their late-game execution has been abysmal and that’s an understatement. Nothing has really been great about it. Their process, approach, mindset, and execution has all been off.

Kind of why they rank tied for third worst with a 100.0 offensive rating in 150 clutch minutes. Here’s how that compares since 2020:

  • 2020: 102.2(23rd)
  • 2021: 95.3(30th)
  • 2022: 101.1(24th)
  • 2023: 113.3(7th)

They’ve been pretty bad in every season until last year. What they’re doing now isn’t a new thing, which makes the struggle even more frustrating because it’s been a regular thing for them.

There are a lot of reasons for that. It’s going away from what worked in the previous 43 minutes. It’s resorting to stagnant offenses, less movement and passing, slower pace, killing the clock, and resorting to more isolations. Though is a typical offense for most teams. The games do bog down like that for many of the teams — a lot of the teams drop in their offense late.

Some other offensive stats for the Heat in the clutch:

  • AST%: 47.3%(27th)
  • ORB%: 29.3(27th)
  • TOV%: 10.7(9th)
  • eFG%: 42.8(27th)
  • Pace: 94.78(28th)

That’s going to be bad if you play this kind of offense without the right personnel for that. There are many issues with this kind of offense in general, but they are made worse when players don’t execute it right, and as simple as that is, it does come down to players not playing at the right level.

Here are some of the players’ efficiency in the clutch:

  • Herro: 47.9% true shooting
  • Butler: 46.5%
  • Adebayo: 46.8%
  • Rozier: 54.6%

That is simply not going to cut it. And that’s as simple as it is sometimes. Zooming out to include fourth quarters over the years, here’s Butler’s scoring and efficiency in the fourth:

  • 2024: 23.4 points per 75 possessions on 46.6% eFG & 56.1% TS
  • 2023: 27.7 points on 53.4% & 62.0%
  • 2022: 23.4 points on 42.4% & 53.1%
  • 2021: 27.7 points on 44.6% & 55.8%
  • 2020: 24.2 points on 39.8% & 51.6%

Notice the one season they were good in the clutch and how Butler looked. It’s also no coincidence they looked better in the fourth in the playoffs because Butler was also doing his thing there too.

That’s why sometimes, these struggles are as simple as your best player is struggling.

With a struggling, disengaged, passive Butler the whole slowing down the offense to mismatch hunt will not work. It will only work when he has himself going. But in four of the five seasons that just hasn’t worked out.

That’s also what is frustrating. If you know that’s what you’re going to get, there’s no reason to go away from the movement offense or even pick and rolls with other players — just do something. You can’t do both where you switch up the strategy but not execute it well.

But let’s put some film to their struggles!

Xs & Os

In this section of the Launching Pad, we’re going through a bunch of film. Everything that just stood out to me on the court. It’s breaking some of the key takeaways from the games, it’s seeing a trend, particular actions, or highlighting individual plays that are fun.

Continuing with the clutch offense talk, here was their offense against the Hawks:

You can see so many bad things going on and again, it’s not the strategy that’s bad here, it’s the execution. It’s all about the approach and doing it with purpose. If the strategy is to matchup hunt, kill the clock, play prevent offense, and just go into isolation with your best player, then make sure you at least do it properly.

That first possession is Butler just dribbling and doing nothing. He has the matchup he wants and all he does is dribble, dribble, dribble for six seconds before passing it off. There’s no purpose here. It’s not doing anything. The rest of the team also have to execute better by doing something too. Clint Capela isn’t guarding Adebayo here and instead is literally on the other side of the paint where Butler is. Same thing with the nail help. Herro is so far out that you can play off him to discourage drives, but making that pass to Herro also won’t accomplish anything. Now, you’re going against the clock with a Herro-Adebayo PNR getting you nowhere.

This was essentially the same thing in each of the next possessions. This shouldn’t be this hard, especially when they’re getting what you SHOULD want from this strategy.

This whole thing should be simple. You either get Butler with a matchup he wants and he needs to be aggressive, look to score, and just do everything with purpose. If the help doesn’t come, you have one of the better guys at picking his spots and getting good looks(it’s not like the Hawks have some lockdown defenders on him).

But if the defense does send help, like they’ve done in almost all possessions too, then that is also a good thing. That means someone IS open. Someone ISN’T being guarded. Now, it’s also on the team to move in a way that either forces the defender to come up to them to give Butler the space, or to move in a way that exploits the defense to score themselves.

This again can only happen with an engaged Butler. There can’t be just passiveness, dribbling out the clock, and not looking to score or even pass. I don’t know what some of those possessions were — just an awful execution until the last few possessions with a Herro double-drag screen. That is what closed out the game.

  • Defense switches the first, Herro rejects the second screen and has the opening to get into the paint for the floater
  • Defense resorts to showing instead of switching, good idea for Herro to get far out on the side, taking Capela out further and making Murray’s recovery longer. That forces Bogdanovic to help off the strong side and opens up Highsmith in the corner to beat the closeout
  • Defense again shows, but this time you have Capela also playing more aggressively at the level. That puts 2 on the ball and opens up Adebayo on the short roll. He finds Jovic in the corner and now he beats the closeout to the rim

That was much, much better execution and it’s all because things were done with purpose. They did something to make the defense move where they can play off that advantage.

Going back to the initial actions, I haven’t liked how Butler approached some of his mismatch hunting:

There are times he is aggressive and it works, but most of the time, it’s him holding the ball for too long, taking it longer than necessary to attack(allowing the defense to recover), or never looking to score in the first place. And that last bit is sometimes very obvious.

This is going to have to change. His matchup hunting is going to be extremely crucial in the playoffs and was one of the reasons how they got to the finals in the first place. It was because Butler took whatever matchup(it wasn’t even mismatch hunting at that point, it was just hunting) and made it a problem. And one of the reasons why the Celtics won three straight in the end, is because Butler’s hunting wasn’t up to the standard.

Let’s highlight some defense!

Haywood Highsmith has been one of the few positives in these games. His defense in the last week or so has been something else. He’s been tasked with so many different players and has done one hell of a job. I’m inclined to say this level of defense(and it taking pressure off Adebayo and Butler) makes him a closer.

Another positive has been Nikola Jovic’s defense. The Hawks were trying to put him in so many actions to have him switched on Murray. But that didn’t work. Jovic’s huge improvement on defense made that plan useless. Murray couldn’t get by him to force rotations. He couldn’t beat him to get to his spot. He wasn’t able to score or do anything with that matchup.

This improvement where you could comfortably play him as the backup 5 and switch is huge for lineups that you could play. It’s also a big deal when it comes to how many minutes he can play in the playoffs if he can hold his own on switches.

Finally, there’s going to have to be some adjustments made here:

The Pacers have done a great job at getting Adebayo involved in the first action but only to get him out of the paint and away from subsequent plays. It’s a great strategy to exploit. There’s no one else that’s going to keep someone in front and you have no one at the rim either. The Heat will have to come up with a counter to either keep Adebayo in play or still make him effective if he does switch initially.

And that is it for this year’s Launching Pad!