Butler calls struggling Heat ‘soft,’ urges ‘bully ball’

Sports

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) drives past a crowd of Minnesota Timberwolves defenders as Heat center Bam Adebayo, right front, tries to set a pick during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 16, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Heat are losing, and their highest-paid player isn’t happy.

Jimmy Butler labeled the reigning Eastern Conference champions as “soft” after a loss in Minnesota on Friday night, Miami’s third straight defeat and one that dropped the Heat to 28-28 with 16 games left in the regular season.

It was Miami’s 10th loss in its last 16 games.

“It’s not frustrating because we do it so often,” Butler said. “It’s almost like it’s expected, in a bad way to put it. We just think we’re such a good team, and then reality hits us, we’re humbled. And I’m glad because that’s what this game does for you. Home, away, no matter what opponent you’re playing against, you just stroll into the game thinking you’re nice, you’re good, this is what happens.

“I’m glad it happened to us,” he added. “And if we don’t fix it, I hope it continues to happen to us.”

Minnesota entered Friday with the NBA’s worst record. The 119-111 win allowed the Timberwolves to pass Houston and escape the league’s basement for the first time since Jan. 5. Minnesota outrebounded Miami 45-33 and outscored the Heat 23-5 in second-chance opportunities.

“We’re just being soft. That’s it,” Butler said after the loss to one of his former clubs. “Not getting into bodies, scared of some contact. Soft overall.”

Miami hosts Brooklyn on Sunday. The Heat entered the weekend in the No. 7 spot in the East, 1 ½ games behind sixth-place New York in the race to avoid the play-in round that will begin the postseason.

It has been a roller-coaster season for Miami. Key players — Butler among them — missed time because of virus-related issues early, one factor in the 7-14 start. The Heat then went 15-4, resembling the team that went to last season’s NBA Finals.

And now comes this slide. Miami has maintained high hopes of being a playoff contender again, especially after making a trade last month for former All-Star Victor Oladipo. But he has appeared in only four games with Miami and is now sidelined by a recurrence of knee issues. The team hasn’t specified the latest problem or if Oladipo will play again this season.

Miami is 4-20 when allowing 109 points or more, 24-8 when holding teams to 108 or less.

“We’ve got to get stops and that’s the bottom line,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “Offense will take care of itself.”

Butler also said he wants more from Adebayo, the 2020 All-Star who signed a $163 million, five-year extension that begins next season.

“I want Bam to attack the rim because nobody can stay in front of him,” Butler said. “Nobody can stay in front of him. Go. You’re going to get fouled or you’re going to dunk on somebody. That’s cool. I love him shooting midrange jump shots too, but he lets people off the hook. Play bully ball. I like bully ball.”

Butler has declined to speak with reporters after several recent games, but did not hold back Friday.

“I can’t tell you which way we’re going to go,” Butler said. “I don’t know what team is going to show up on any given night.”

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