After going 39-43 and missing the playoffs, the Miami Heat set out to overhaul their team this past offseason.
After going 17-65, the Knicks did, too. However, the similarities between the teams, which will meet Sunday at Madison Square Garden, end there.
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Knicks (10-29) has gone wrong. They missed out on top free agents, got off to a horrible start and parted ways with coach David Fizdale a month and a half into the season.
By contrast, just about everything that could have gone right for the Heat (27-11) has gone right. They have surged to No. 2 in the Eastern Conference standings as younger players have stepped up and free-agent addition Jimmy Butler has emerged as a game-changing veteran leader.
“I think the biggest thing you can say, the biggest compliment you can pay him, is that he impacts the game without even scoring,” Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said. “When we played down there, he was moving the ball, he was defending, he was executing things off the ball that created offense. So he’s a guy that knows what it takes to win games.”
Butler has always been considered a big-time talent but was not perceived as the sort of superstar you could build a team around. He forced his way out of Chicago after he and Dwyane Wade publicly ripped younger teammates. He then feuded with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota.
Though he had a nice run last season with the 76ers, when he joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade this past summer, not everyone was convinced it was going to be a good fit, given that this is his fourth team in four seasons.
The Heat, however, couldn’t have asked for a better leader. Although Butler’s average of 20.6 points per game is the highest on the team, he has led the team in scoring in only 17 games this season. Much of the Heat’s offensive success has to do with the fact that they have gotten scoring out of multiple players. In the last five games, for example, they have had four different scoring leaders.
Butler, who is averaging 6.5 assists per game, has a lot to do with that.
Taj Gibson, a teammate of Butler’s on the Bulls and Timberwolves, said he’s not surprised by the season he’s having.
“He’s always been capable of having breakout years,” Gibson said. “He works extremely hard and is a great leader. He’s all about winning. And that’s what they are doing. They are focusing on winning and doing the right kind of things and the right kind of habits. And I’m happy for him.”
Notes & quotes: It’s possible that the Knicks could have their starting unit back on the court for Sunday’s game. Marcus Morris, who missed three games with a sore neck, is listed as questionable; the Knicks are hopeful that he can play. Julius Randle, who missed two games after the death of his grandmother, is listed as probable.