The Miami Heat kick-off the season and the Jimmy Butler era began … without Jimmy Butler.
Butler (Small forward, Shooting guard), the Miami Heat’s high rated offseason addition, was not at AmericanAirlines Arena for Wednesday’s opener because of personal reasons.
But Butler’s absence didn’t stop the Heat from starting the era with a bang — and it wasn’t just because Dwyane Wade is now retired — with a 120-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. The win snapped Miami’s two-game losing steak on opening night.
“We had a good run with that team for three years, just like we did with the Big 3 era when we had a run for four years, before that about a two-year run with that team my first two years,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game, referring to the Heat’s three-year run with center Hassan Whiteside as its highest-paid player. “This just feels like a natural turning of the page to a new team and a new opportunity, even though there are some carryovers.
“I get excited every opening day. We felt that in the preseason, maybe even a little bit more this preseason than the last couple years just because it felt new and it felt like a different opportunity.”
With offseason addition, Meyers Leonard and two rookies — first-round pick Tyler Herro and undrafted free-agent signing Kendrick Nunn — in the starting lineup, the Heat’s new look was on display even without Butler.
The average age of the Heat’s opening-night starting lineup (Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, Leonard, Herro and Nunn) was 23 years old, and the 19-year-old Herro is the youngest player to ever start a game for the Heat in franchise history.
The youth was quite noticeable, in a bad way, to start the game. Miami turned the ball over 12 times and 17 fouls in a sloppy first half, and the result was a 60-54 Grizzlies lead after two quarters.
But a strong fourth quarter was enough to hold the tide against a young Grizzlies roster that also was sloppy Wednesday with 24 turnovers and 31 fouls. Fueled by a 24-1 run, Miami outscored Memphis in the final period 37-17.
Winslow led the charge with 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Without Butler, the Heat used a balanced offensive attack to open the season. Five Miami players finished with double-digit points.
Nunn impressed in his first NBA regular-season game, ending the night with 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting and three assists.
View this post on Instagram
Herro contributed 14 points and eight rebounds in 34 minutes. Dragic recorded 19 points in 25 minutes off the bench.
The Heat’s offense still struggled and looked fragmented at times, bringing flashbacks from last season when Miami finished below average in almost every offensive category — 26th in points (105.7), 22nd in shooting percentage (45), 21st in three-point shooting percentage (34.9), 30th in free-throw percentage (69.5), 23rd in turnovers (14.7) and 26th in offensive rating (106.7 points per 100 possessions).
Aside from an impressive fourth quarter, the Heat made just 41 percent of its shots with 16 turnovers over the first three quarters.
It isn’t exactly like the Heat began with an entirely new team this season, though. Adebayo, Dragic, Winslow, Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. were part of last season’s core and played for the Heat on Wednesday.
Along with Butler, the Heat began the season without guard Dion Waiters (suspension) and forwards James Johnson (conditioning) and Udonis Haslem (wrist).
Waiters’ one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team is set to end Thursday. His status with the team is up in the air.
Next up for the Heat is a quick two-game trip that begins Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks and concludes Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.