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Struggling Heat look for answers vs revamped Thunder

/ 10:04 PM January 04, 2021
Erik Spoelstra Miami Heat NBA

FILE – Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat talks with Andre Iguodala #28, Bam Adebayo #13 and Duncan Robinson #55 against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second quarter at American Airlines Arena on December 30, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Michael Reaves/Getty Images/AFP

It’s so early in the NBA season that a lot of things may not seem to make sense.

Take the Oklahoma City Thunder, who visit the Miami Heat on Monday night. The Thunder are 0-3 at home and 2-0 on the road.

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In addition, the Thunder entered the weekend ranked 30th in the NBA in free-throw percentage (62.3). Yet, in Saturday night’s 108-99 win over the Orlando Magic, the Thunder converted on 90.5 percent of their free throws (19-of-21).

Perhaps the Thunder are so difficult to decipher because they have a first-year NBA coach in Mark Daigneault, and their most-tenured player is Hamidou Diallo, who is in just his third season.

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The Thunder returns just two starters from last season: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who leads the team in scoring (18.8) and assists (6.8); and Luguentz Dort, an undrafted rookie last season who is a defensive menace (team-high 1.2 steals per game). He is averaging 14.6 points and is shooting 44.4 percent on three-pointers as his offensive game continues to expand.

Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort are the keys to a Thunder team that is not expected to do much this season, even though the players surely don’t feel that way.

“No matter how the game looks on paper,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of his young team, “we have guys who compete every night and are very capable.”

Meanwhile, the Heat — with a much more established roster — made it to the NBA Finals last season under veteran coach Erik Spoelstra and the team’s spiritual leader, forward Jimmy Butler.

However, the Heat have yet to get untracked, alternating a loss with a win in all four of their games following their season-opening defeat to Orlando. Due in part to injuries, Miami has fielded a different starting lineup in all five of its games.

Bam Adebayo leads Miami in scoring (19.0) and rebounds (8.0). Goran Dragic, who powers Miami’s second unit, is averaging 15.2 points and a team-high 5.2 assists.

Butler, who returned on Friday after missing two straight games due to an injured right ankle, has yet to find his footing this season. He is averaging 8.3 points, 4.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 steals. But Butler is making just 32.1 percent from the floor.

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“It’s still early, and the shooting is aberrational — everyone knows that,” Spoelstra said.

That’s also true for the Thunder, whose three new starters are Al Horford, who was a key acquisition from the Philadelphia 76ers last month, Darius Bazley and George Hill.

Horford, 34, is the most accomplished player on the Thunder. He is a two-time NCAA champion, a five-time All-Star and an NBA All-Defense second-team player in 2018.

Hill, another 34-year-old, is playing with his seventh NBA team. Acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks in November, he is averaging 15.3 points.

Bazley, 20, skipped college and was a first-round pick in 2019 (23rd overall). After getting traded twice on draft night and landing in Oklahoma City, Bazley became the first Thunder rookie since James Harden to score at least 20 points in three straight games. Bazley is averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds.

On Saturday against the Magic, Bazley had team highs in points (19) and rebounds (12).

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TAGS: Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat, NBA, OKC Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
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