ORLANDO, Fla. — The sounds of Nickelback coming from the portable speaker in the side of the Miami Heat locker room were unmistakable. As the rest of his teammates and Heat staffers quietly showered, got dressed and picked over a postgame pizza spread following a 126-114 overtime loss to the Orlando Magic on Saturday, Jimmy Butler decided it was the the right time to pump up the volume on his stereo and blast the familiar sounds of Chad Kroeger’s voice.
And Butler, who had just poured in a game-high 38 points in 39 minutes sang every word to each song.
Butler had given his team life by making a difficult 3-pointer over two Magic defenders at the regulation buzzer to send the game into overtime. But, as has become far too common for the Heat’s liking this season, Butler’s performance wasn’t enough to carry the group, which faded on the second night of a back-to-back.
The young Magic team regrouped after Butler’s regulation buzzer-beater, holding Butler scoreless in the extra session to put the game out of reach. As the final 17 seconds ticked off the clock, a frustrated Butler walked off the floor before the game had officially ended, leading to Miami getting hit with a technical foul because — without Butler — the Heat had only four players on the court. The technical angered Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, but when asked after the game whether he was even aware of the call, Butler responded succinctly.
“I don’t give a f—,” he said.
It was a quintessential Jimmy Butler quote. The 33-year-old six-time All-Star is going to do what he wants when he wants, whether that means wearing dreadlock extensions to media day, listening to Nickelback after a disappointing loss, chewing out a general manager after walking out of a contentious practice or any of the countless other examples during his star-crossed 12-year NBA career.
Butler, who was the No. 30 overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 NBA draft, has carved out an incredible career for himself through hard work and determination. His belief in himself has always been his defining characteristic in a league full of alphas who exude confidence. And there is one thing he values above all else: winning.
It’s something the Heat, who were a missed Butler 3-pointer away from another trip to the Finals last season, haven’t done enough this season. After the loss to the Magic, Miami is 36-33 this season entering Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz, languishing in the play-in portion of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, three games behind the sixth-place New York Knicks. While Butler is having another strong season, he hasn’t gotten the same type of support from his teammates that he did a year ago.
“He’s one of the best players in the NBA,” veteran Heat point guard Kyle Lowry said of Butler. “Both sides of the ball. He’s in his rhythm and he’s in his groove where he just is going and playing well. Sometimes these games come in losses, but we got to find ways to maximize this right now.”
Butler is in the midst of one of the strongest stretches of his career. In 10 games since the All-Star break, Butler is averaging 26.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 62.9% from the field. However, the Heat are just 4-6 in that stretch.
The list of players averaging 25 points, five rebounds and five assists during the same stretch, like Butler has, is a roll call of basketball’s elite: Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
For the season, Butler is averaging 22.6 points per game, the second-highest total of his career, and he’s shooting a career-best 52.8% from the field. His 8.4 free throw attempts per game are his third-highest total behind 2016-17 (8.9) and 2019-20, when he took more than 9 free throws per game en route to leading the Heat to the Finals in the Orlando bubble. But after finishing first in the East a season ago, Miami is having its worst season since 2018-19 — the last time the Heat didn’t have Butler.
Still, Spoelstra pushes back on the notion that the Heat need to do more in the short term to take pressure off Butler.
“We definitely have enough,” Spoelstra said. “And really our offense has been trending in a better direction, and that hasn’t just been Jimmy. It’s been getting to our game, our attacks, our identity.”
Lowry, who returned to the lineup Saturday after missing over a month because of left knee soreness, offered his own theory as to what the Heat can do to help Butler more.
“Make 3s,” he said with a chuckle. “Make shots. Get stops and get in transition and get the easier buckets. He’s a physical player, he wants the contact, but if we can go out there and give him a couple possessions where he doesn’t have to get hit and banged and we can give him some relief points, that helps.”
The Heat are shooting 33.7% from the 3-point line this season, good for 28th in the league (Butler himself is shooting 33.3% from 3, which is slightly above his career mark of 32.2%). To Spoelstra’s point, though, they are shooting 39% from beyond the arc over their past five games, which is seventh best in the league over the same span.
For Butler, the bottom line remains — the group isn’t doing enough collectively to get the job done. When asked about his game-tying shot over Magic forward Wendell Carter Jr. and guard Jalen Suggs, Butler shrugged it off.
“All of the making shots in the world didn’t help us win this game,” Butler said. “So I don’t care.”
The Heat still have time to turn things around. Seven of their final 13 games are against teams below .500, and they have two games left against the Knicks, the team directly ahead of them in the standings. But if Miami doesn’t make a push, the Heat are going to waste one of Butler’s best seasons — and watch another year of his prime fade away in the process.
“It sucks that he’s playing this well and we’re not winning games that we should,” Lowry said. “Because the numbers and the things he’s doing, it’s kind of MVP caliber-ish right now. With us being in seventh, we don’t get the attention that we should, he’s not getting the attention that [he] should. I know he doesn’t care, but we got to win games. It will be a lot more shine on that.”