The Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James were in Miami on Friday night and attracted a sellout-plus crowd of 20,013. The Lakers survived 113-110, leaving the Heat with an 18-7 record as the runaway leader of the Southeast Division.
The Heat missed the playoffs last season (39-43). It now is a sneaky third as an Eastern contender behind Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
Miami drafted wisely by taking shooter Tyler Herro as the 13th choice in the 2019 draft, and found another excellent rookie — Kendrick Nunn — in the maze of G-Leaguers. Primarily, the Heat signed Jimmy Butler, now 30, to a four-year contract for $142 million.
The Heat couldn’t be winning without Butler, just as he so loudly, succinctly and accurately told the Timberwolves when he showed up for his first practice in October 2018.
The Timberwolves were 29-53 in 2015-16 and 29th among 30 teams in average attendance (14,175). Tom Thibodeau was hired, basically stuck with what he had inherited, and the 2016-17 Wolves finished 31-51 and remained 29th in attendance (14,809).
That made it 13 straight seasons without reaching the playoffs. Thibodeau was brought in to get the Wolves back to the playoffs. He ripped up the roster — starting on June 22, 2017, when he acquired Butler from Chicago for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 draft pick (Lauri Markkanen).
The Wolves went 47-35, including 37-22 with Butler in the lineup, and reached the playoffs. They lost in five games to No. 1 seed Houston, attracted 18 sellouts and were 21st in attendance (17,056).
Thibodeau gave a maximum deal to Andrew Wiggins. He knew a maximum deal soon would be required for Karl-Anthony Towns. Thibs couldn’t give Butler the money he wanted so Jimmy went bonkers. Thibodeau traded him to Philadelphia.
Markkanen and LaVine are productive, and the Bulls remain losers. The current Wolves are 10-15 and rank last in average attendance at 14,880. Meantime, Butler is in Miami, and showing that he’s what Thibodeau was after in June 2017: the catalyst to enliven a dead franchise and get back to the playoffs.
• Worst decision for Thibodeau: Drafting Kris Dunn at No. 5 in 2016 rather than taking Jamal Murray (seventh to Denver).
• What the? decision for Gersson Rosas: Trading up to No. 6 and landing Jarrett Culver (can’t shoot), rather than staying at No. 11 and taking Tyler Herro (can shoot).
• Why? decision for Flip Saunders: Trading down in 2013 and taking Shabazz Muhammad at No. 14, one pick ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo (a player Flip was high on).
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