MIAMI — Ahead of last season’s sweep out of the first round of the playoffs, Jimmy Butler said he was “stupidly locked in.” Butler’s tone was a bit different as he stood in front of microphones for his preplayoff media session following Thursday’s practice at FTX Arena.
“No, not really,” Butler said when asked if anything changes for him or his teammates in the playoffs. “We’re going to continue to play the same way. Guys are just going to get better and better as the playoffs come along and find a way to win 16 games.”
The Heat’s wait to learn their first-round opponent ends soon, as the winner of Friday night’s play-in game between the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will earn that title. Butler has tried not to get too caught up with the different possibilities throughout the week, choosing to wait until the Heat’s playoff opponent is decided Friday before focusing on scouting reports and matchups.
Instead, Butler has been using the week-long break from games to spend more time with his 2-year-old daughter, Rylee.
“Yeah, I’m locked in on basketball, too. But I want to be more locked on being a dad right now,” Butler said, with the Heat set to open the playoffs on Sunday at 1 p.m. at FTX Arena. “Because I know whenever these games really do come around, I’ll be away from the house a lot. I won’t get to see my baby girl as much. So I’m being a dad right now.”
When asked about those doubting the top-seeded Heat, Butler was quick to shoot down that story line.
“We just come in here and work to get better, waiting on our opponent so we can study those guys,” he said. “Either one is going to be a really good team. We’ve had great games against Cleveland and against Atlanta. Overlooking us, I don’t think it’s a real thing. I think there’s a lot of good basketball teams and we’re one of them.”
Butler didn’t create the headline-worthy sound bite ahead of the playoffs this year. But that doesn’t mean he’s not confident about the Heat’s chances of winning an NBA championship.
“I know that we all want to win a championship. That’s our goal,” Butler said. “That’s why coach Pat [Riley] put this roster together, [Erik Spoelstra] has been coaching and leading us the way that he has all year long. Kyle [Lowry] has been telling us how to make it happen along with [Markieff Morris], along with [P.J. Tucker], along with [Udonis Haslem]. The champions that we do have. We got a great leadership and we got to find a way to get 16 [wins].
“That’s been on all of our minds all year long. That’s the reason that we play the game. I think we’ve been a great team all year long. But now is the time we talk about. When we have this team meeting, a lot of championship talks are going to happen. But I really, really, really think we got a good shot at this thing.”
This and that
— The Heat don't yet know their first-round opponent, but it still has been a productive week of practices. Miami practiced Wednesday and Thursday, and is also expected to practice Friday and Saturday before Sunday’s Game 1.
“There are some basic things that no matter who your playoff opponent will be that you have to tighten up defensively,” Spoelstra said Thursday. “Then we’re just continuing to work on our conditioning, rhythm and our flow offensively. You can never work on that stuff enough. It’s been really beneficial to have this practice time to get a little bit more detailed and we’ll find out who we will play all at the same time tomorrow night.”
— The hope is that Tucker will be able to play in Game 1 on Sunday, but he was again not a full participant in Thursday’s practice. He was able to put up shots on the side, though.
“You saw him doing him some work and he had a lather,” was all Spoelstra said when asked about Tucker’s status.
Tucker has been sidelined with a strained right calf since last week. He missed the final two games of the regular season because of the injury.
— Heat starting center Bam Adebayo remains in COVID-19 protocols, but the expectation is he will be cleared to play in Game 1 on Sunday.
The quarantine period is five days for asymptomatic and vaccinated NBA players to return if testing data shows they’re no longer at risk to be infectious. With Adebayo entering COVID-19 protocols on Sunday, his five-day quarantine period runs through Friday unless he produces consecutive negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart before then.
“I’ve been in constant communication with him,” Spoelstra said when asked about Adebayo. Spoelstra added that Adebayo is feeling “great.”