Jimmy Butler leads Heat past Knicks. Takeaways, details and what it means for playoff race

D.A. Varela/

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 127-120 win over the New York Knicks (42-32) on Wednesday night at Miami-Dade Arena to open an ultra-important late-season two-game homestand. The Heat (40-34) closes the critical homestand on Saturday night against the Brooklyn Nets:

Jimmy Butler continued his post-All-Star break surge to lead the Heat to one of its biggest wins of the season.

With Heat icon and close friend Dwyane Wade sitting courtside, Butler put on a show to finish Wednesday’s victory with a game-high 35 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, 2-of-2 shooting on threes and 11-of-14 shooting from the foul line to go with four rebounds, nine assists and four steals in 37 minutes.

“Jimmy was obviously sensational,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He just gives you that trigger no matter whether he’s a screener, he’s with the ball, in the post or whatever. You just know you’re going to get a good decision.”

Butler is averaging 26.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 60.5 percent from the field, 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) from three-point range and 85.1 percent from the foul line in 15 games since the All-Star break.

As for Wednesday’s game, the Heat entered halftime with a 64-61 lead after a well-played competitive first half that featured a playoff feel. Miami’s offense was sharp from the start, shooting 54.8 percent from the field, 9 of 17 (52.9 percent) on threes and 9 of 10 (90 percent) from the foul line while dishing out 16 assists to just five turnovers in the first two quarters.

The Heat continued its high-level play in the third quarter, pushing its lead up to 11 points. Butler was dominant in the period, totaling 11 points and three assists in the quarter — at one point, hitting an and-one turnaround jumper over Quentin Grimes and yelling “I’m like that” at the Heat’s bench and then hitting the free throw to give Miami an 11-point lead with 3:19 left in the third.

But the Knicks closed the quarter on a 9-4 run to cut the deficit to six points entering the fourth.

The Knicks carried that momentum into the fourth quarter with Butler starting the period on the bench for his usual rest. New York came all the way back and took a two-point lead with 8:11 to play.

The Heat managed to survive the non-Butler minutes, though, as Max Strus hit a three-pointer to put Miami back ahead by one point with 7:05 left. Then Bam Adebayo was fouled on the Heat’s next offensive possession, hitting both free throws to give Miami a three-point lead with 6:32 to play.

That’s when Butler re-entered to play the rest of the game. Upon Butler coming back in with 6:32 left in the period, the Heat went on an 11-2 run to push its lead up to 12 points with 3:54 to play.

Butler scored eight points on 2-of-2 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from the foul line while playing the final 6:32 of the game.

Guard Tyler Herro also again delivered in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his 22 points in the final period to help the Heat finish strong. Herro shot 5 of 7 from the field and 4 of 5 son threes in the fourth.

“Tyler continues to make big time shots in fourth quarters and clutch moments,” Spoelstra said. “Those were big time plays that we needed.”

Adebayo added 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes.

After Knicks forward Julius Randle totaled 43 points in a win over the Heat earlier this month, the Heat limited Randle to 15 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field on Wednesday.

The game still turned into the Heat’s league-leading 52nd clutch game (one that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter) of the season, as the Knicks pulled within five points with 42.2 seconds to play.

But Miami held on for its fourth win in the last five games.

“I’m going to be honest, at this point with the situation we’re in and how we’re trying to keep building and get higher up in the standings, every game feels like a playoff game,” Adebayo said when asked about the significance of Wednesday’s win. “So it’s not just this one. Yeah, this one was important, but the ones ahead are also going to feel like playoff games, as well.”

The Heat moved even closer to escaping the play-in tournament and the fifth spot also remains in play.

With Wednesday’s win, the seventh-place Heat (40-34) pulled within percentage points of the sixth-place Nets (39-33) and within two games of the fifth-place Knicks (42-32).

The Heat can move into sole possession of sixth place if the Nets lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday. The Heat and Nets also face off in Miami on Saturday.

The fifth spot is also suddenly in play, with the Heat and Knicks facing off one more time this regular season this upcoming Wednesday in New York. If the Heat wins that game, it would not only gain more ground on the Knicks but Miami would also likely end up with the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Why? A Heat win in New York next week ties the regular-season series between the two teams 2-2 and the second tiebreaker goes to the division winner. The Heat is on track to win its division while the Knicks’ division will be won by either the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers.

To escape having to qualify for the playoffs through the play-in tournament, the Heat needs to finish as a top-six playoff seed in the East. The seventh through 10th-place teams in each conference participate in the play-in tournament.

The Heat has eight games left on its regular-season schedule.

“Everybody is trying to win at this point in the season,” Butler said. “Everybody is trying to move up. Every game matters as it has all year long. But right now, for us more than anything, we kind of have to win to be where we want to be. But I like it like that.”

The Heat shot 40 percent or better from three-point range seven times in 59 games prior to the All-Star break. The Heat hit that mark for the seventh time in 15 games since the break on Wednesday.

The Heat’s outside shooting has been trending in a positive direction in recent weeks and that continued. Miami shot a season-best 57.1 percent (16 of 28) from beyond the arc against New York.

Herro made a team-high four threes on seven attempts. Each of his four made threes came in the fourth quarter.

Gabe Vincent and Strus each hit three threes. Vincent finished with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from three-point range in 25 minutes, and Strus scored 11 points off the bench with the help of 3-of-4 shooting from deep.

Butler, Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry each made two threes.

Despite its hot shooting recently, the Heat still entered Wednesday with the NBA’s third-worst team three-point percentage this season at 33.8 percent because of its struggles through the first four months of the season.

But the good news is the Heat has been much better in this department lately, shooting 38.8 percent from three-point range in the last 13 games.

Before the All-Star break, the Heat shot just 33.4 percent from deep in the first 59 games of the season.

“The important thing is we’re getting more consistent and intentional to our identity,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s offense. “You can point to the threes, but it’s a symbiotic relationship. Our attack numbers are up, rim numbers are up, paint numbers are up, assist numbers are up.”

The Heat’s bench rotation again didn’t include Victor Oladipo and this time didn’t include Omer Yurtseven.

The Heat went with a bench rotation of Strus, Haywood Highsmith, Lowry and Caleb Martin.

Even with backup center Cody Zeller missing his fifth straight game because of a broken nose, Yurtseven did not play on Wednesday. Yurtseven appeared in each of the first four games that Zeller missed, but only for limited minutes because of uneven play especially on the defensive end.

With no Zeller or Yurtseven in the rotation against the Knicks, 6-foot-8 starting power forward Kevin Love doubled as the Heat’s backup center when Adebayo was on the bench. Highsmith logged four minutes, taking the spot in the power rotation that’s usually occupied by either Zeller or more recently Yurtseven.

The changes resulted in positive minutes, as the Heat outscored the Knicks by seven points in the 8:30 that Adebayo was on the bench.

For Oladipo, Wednesday was the continuation of a trend. He received his third DNP-CD in the last four games, falling out of the rotation after Lowry’s recent return from injury.

Lowry continued his impressive play since returning, closing Wednesday’s win with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 shooting on threes, four rebounds, three assists and one steal in 24 minutes.

Lowry played the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game, recording four points and three assists in the period.

The Heat is as healthy as it has been all season.

The Heat has dealt with injury issues throughout the schedule, entering Wednesday with the most missed games in the NBA (271 games) this season due to injury, according to Spotrac’s tracker.

But for the second straight game, Zeller was the only Heat player unavailable because of an injury. Zeller underwent a procedure on his nose this past Friday and is considered day-to-day, with his return possibly coming in Saturday’s game against the Nets.

Even the Heat’s two two-way contract players Jamal Cain and Orlando Robinson were back in Miami from the G League and available for Wednesday’s game. But Robinson, who is only eligible to be active for four more games this regular season as part of the restrictions tied to his two-way contract, was made inactive for Wednesday’s contest.