SI:AM | Heat Still Have Worries Despite Snapping Streak

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. Congrats to Caitlin Clark on becoming the NCAA’s No. 2 leading scorer of all time.

In today’s SI:AM:

🥵 Trouble for the Heat

​​🥶 Why ice baths are so popular

​​🏎️ Major F1 news

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Miami’s mid-season struggles

The Miami Heat have been among the most successful teams in recent NBA memory. They’ve advanced at least as far as the conference finals in three of the past four seasons, including two NBA Finals appearances. But is their run on top nearing an end?

The Heat entered last night’s game against the Sacramento Kings mired in a seven-game losing streak, but even that doesn’t accurately reflect just how terrible the Heat were in the second half of January. That streak included blowout losses to the Toronto Raptors (121–97) and Boston Celtics (143–110). In the final game of the streak, Miami lost to the Phoenix Suns, 118–105, but entered the fourth quarter trailing by 26 and only made the game respectable in garbage time. The Heat’s average margin of defeat during the streak was 16.3 points.

They turned things around last night against a good Kings team, though, winning 115–106. Jimmy Butler led the way with 31 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Josh Richardson had 24 points off the bench, and while Terry Rozier is still struggling to find his scoring touch after being traded to Miami (he had three points on 1-of-8 shooting last night), he did tally 10 assists.

“The group poured a lot into the last 24 hours,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after the game. “Poured into this process, poured into each other, poured into the solutions. I commend the group because in this day and age and in pro sports, it is tough to do that.”

While it’s surely a relief for the Heat to snap the streak, which was tied for their longest since 2008, losing so many games in a row showed that the team has a long way to go if it wants to make another deep playoff run. Miami ranks 21st in the league in offensive efficiency and 13th in defensive efficiency, which, while still in the top half of the league, is its lowest ranking in that metric since the ’14–15 season.

Trading 37-year-old Kyle Lowry to the Charlotte Hornets for the 29-year-old Rozier was the first move the Heat made to get younger and more athletic. It’s a move that should pay off in the long run, but Rozier has struggled in his first five games with the Heat, averaging 10 points per game on 34.5% shooting. Rozier needs to play like he did in Charlotte, where he averaged 23.2 points per game on 45.9% shooting.

The other issue for the Heat is that they lost two of their surprise contributors from last year’s team to free agency. Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, two undrafted players who developed into key pieces of a championship-level team. Victor Oladipo, another useful bench player, suffered a serious injury in the playoffs and was subsequently traded to clear cap space. The emergence of Jaime Jaquez Jr. as one of the top rookies in the NBA has softened the blow of those departures, but he missed six games recently with a groin strain and has struggled in three games since returning.

The good news for the Heat is that they still have time to make some moves to gear up for the stretch run. The trade deadline is a week from today, and Miami will have to move quickly to find the right deals to solidify itself as a contender. The most obvious move would be to acquire a big man. Bam Adebayo and Kevin Love are the only members of the team who receive regular playing time taller than 6′ 7″.

Fortunately, the Heat have an all-time great coach in Spoelstra. He’s pushed them beyond their talent many times, and he’ll have to do it again if Miami is going to make a deep run this year.

The best of Sports Illustrated

Illustration by Michael Byers

  • Rohan Nadkarni wrote more about the Heat’s struggles and what the solution might be.
  • Chris Ballard has a feature on the growing trend of athletes using ice baths to help their bodies recover.
  • The PGA Tour announced yesterday that it has received a $3 billion investment from Strategic Sports Group, a significant development in the ongoing saga of the proposed collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and LIV Golf. Alex Miceli is in Pebble Beach this week where he spoke with PGA players about the news, while Bob Harig is down in Mexico for LIV’s season-opener and got reactions from those players.
  • The second-to-last installment of Matt Verderame’s countdown of the 50 most influential teams in NFL history is here.
  • Verderame also has another report from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, where he watched quarterbacks and defensive linemen work out.
  • Conor Orr believes new Seahawks coach Mike Macdonald is “too smart to fail.”
  • Big news in F1, as Lewis Hamilton is reportedly set to leave Mercedes.
  • Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley is leaving the school to become the Packers’ defensive coordinator.
  • Damian Lillard returned to Portland for the first time since being traded to the Bucks and didn’t know where to find the visitors’ locker room.

The top five…

… things I saw last night:

5. Northwestern coach Chris Collins’s bizarre ejection after the final buzzer.

4. Brady Tkachuk’s breakaway goal after he was released from the penalty box.

3. The standing ovation Lillard received in his first game back in Portland.

2. Devin Booker copying Mikal Bridges’s celebration after hitting a three over him.

1. Tony Finau being forced to hit a driver on Pebble Beach’s iconic 100-yard, par-3 seventh hole because of the extreme wind blowing off the Pacific.

SIQ

On this day 100 years ago, the Chicago White Sox played the New York Giants in an exhibition game as part of their world tour and also posed in their uniforms for a photo in front of what world-famous landmark?

  • The Great Sphinx
  • Machu Picchu
  • The Acropolis
  • Taj Mahal

Yesterday’s SIQ: Jan. 31 is former NFL defensive end Mario Williams’s birthday. He was selected by the Houston Texans with the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft out of what school?

  • North Carolina
  • NC State
  • Penn State
  • South Carolina

Answer: NC State. Williams terrorized quarterbacks for three years with the Wolfpack, setting the program’s record for career sacks. In his final college season, he set the single-season school record for sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (27.5).

The debate over who should be the No. 1 pick that year was fierce. Other contenders included Reggie Bush (who went No. 2 to the New Orleans Saints) and Vince Young (No. 3 pick by the Tennessee Titans). With David Carr already in place as Houston’s franchise quarterback, the Texans were said to be choosing between Williams and Bush.

The decision to take Williams proved to be a smart one. While Bush had a solid NFL career, averaging 67.8 total yards per game over 11 years, Williams became one of the best pass rushers of his generation, ranking in the top 10 in the league in sacks four times.

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