Miami Heat stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have been ruled out of Tuesday's scheduled showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers due to the NBA's health and safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Butler and Adebayo were added to Miami's COVID-19 protocol list on Monday, joining team-mates Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, Maurice Harkless, Udonis Haslem and KZ Okpala.

Heat guard Avery Bradley had been placed on the health and safety protocols list before Sunday's matchup against the Boston Celtics was postponed.

The coronavirus situation also saw the postponement of Monday's game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks, as well as the Celtics-Chicago Bulls encounter on Tuesday.

Miami are ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 4-4 record after reaching last season's NBA Finals, eventually beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers.

These are uncertain times for the NBA as it continues to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 protocols have left rosters lighter in number and, with contract tracing having a major impact, it is far from surprising to see games being postponed.

The absences have offered some players greater opportunities to impress in the embryonic stages of a shortened season that will require adaptability from all involved.

After an eventful week, Stats Perform assesses those performers who have stood out - for good and bad reasons - in games from January 4-10.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Bradley Beal 

It has been a tough start for the Wizards, who are stuck in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Beal, however, has excelled amid the defeats. He is averaging 35 points per game for the season but has been particularly spectacular in recent outings, including dropping 60 against the Philadelphia 76ers. While it set a new career best for points - and tied a franchise record too - Beal made clear he is not interested in personal milestones: "I just want to win. Sometimes you might be able to score 40, 50, 60, whatever the case may be, but I just want to win".

Tyrese Maxey 

The 21st pick in the 2020 draft had scored a combined tally of 52 points through his first nine NBA appearances. Then, amid injuries, positive COVID tests and coronavirus-enforced isolations, Maxey was thrust into a leading role as one of just seven players available against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. His response to the situation was to score 39 points in just under 44 minutes of action, having taken 33 shots but no free throw attempts. In doing so, he became the first 76ers rookie with at least 35 points in a game since franchise legend Allen Iverson in 1997. 

Jimmy Butler 

Butler has begun to heat up after a cold start to the new campaign for Miami. The five-time All-Star had been hampered by injury issues but has looked back to somewhere near his best of late, managing 18, 26 and 26 points in his past three games. Surprisingly, though, Butler is still yet to manage a successful three-point attempt, missing on his seven shots from deep so far. It is a different story from the free-throw line, though, going 28 of 29 from the charity stripe.

LaMelo Ball 

The rise and rise of the youngest Ball brother continues. The point guard became the youngest player in NBA history to score a triple-double as Charlotte Hornets beat the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. At 19 years and 140 days old, Ball had 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. He had narrowly missed out on achieving the feat in his team's previous outing, against a New Orleans Pelicans team that included older sibling Lonzo. His rebounding average has gone from 4.33 a game to 9.25 across the past week. 

GOING COLD...

James Harden  

The NBA's scoring champion for the previous three seasons, Harden is still averaging 26 points per game despite continued doubts over his long-term future in Houston. However, it has not been a particularly productive week for the guard, who has not reached double digits in terms of field goals made in four straight outings. There were 15-point displays against both the Pacers and the Magic, then 20 points in a defeat to the Lakers. Across that stretch, Harden was six for 22 from three-point range. Astonishingly, he did not attempt a solitary free throw against Orlando. 

Trae Young 

To say Young has gone cold from deep recently is an understatement. The Atlanta Hawk landed five of six attempts in the season-opener against the Bulls, but since then has managed just nine successful long-range shots, including going a combined one for 14 in his most recent three appearances. Understandably, then, his average for points per game has dipped from 28.17 on January 3 to 17.67 for the past week.

Russell Westbrook 

A quadriceps injury will keep Westbrook sidelined for at least a week. His early form with the Wizards has been steady, including reaching double digits for points in all of his seven games for the franchise. Where there has been a dip for the former NBA MVP is in rebounding. He was up at 11.20 per game for the season by January 3, but he has averaged 6.00 for the past week following reduced contributions in defeats to the 76ers and the Celtics.

Blake Griffin  

Griffin hit with eight of 16 three-point shots for Detroit against the Cavaliers on December 26, but his output from long range since suggests that number could prove to be a post-Christmas outlier when compared to the rest of the season. In the past week, the 31-year-old has landed two from deep out of 18 tries for the struggling Pistons. His overall field goal percentage is down on his career mark too (37.6 per cent from 49.7 per cent), explaining why he is averaging 13.9 points per game. 

The NBA is back! A shortened schedule, a new play-in tournament and increased roster sizes have created plenty of interest in a new season.

A December start seems to have caught a few of the potential title hopefuls a little cold, though it is still early days. The key is not about starting fast, but finishing strong.

Still, some have hit the ground running. Each week, Stats Perform will take a look at the players who are impressing, as well as those seemingly stuck in a bit of a slump.

For this opening edition, however, all statistical comparisons are made to performances on average across the entire 2019-20 season.
 

RUNNING HOT... 

Stephen Curry (32.3ppg versus 20.8ppg) 

Scoring 62 points in a game sure helps to boost the average. Curry actually started out a little slowly – hardly a surprise considering injury meant he played just five games in the previous campaign – as he made only 13 of his combined 48 field goal attempts in defeats to the Nets and Bucks. However, Curry was certainly cooking against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, hitting eight three-pointers as he posted a new career-high points total. So far in this season, he is making 4.3 three-pointers per outing. 

Christian Wood (23.8ppg versus 13.1ppg) 

These are uncertain times in Houston, where James Harden seemingly no longer wants to be. While his future remains the headline story for the franchise, Christian Wood has quickly shown why he was such an astute signing. Having gone undrafted out of college, the 25-year-old flashed potential with the Detroit Pistons in 2019-20, tempting the Rockets to sign him to a three-year, $41million deal. Their reward? Wood has averaged 23.8 points while playing 36.5 minutes for a team that boasts a 2-2 record through four games. 

Kyle Anderson (16.7ppg versus 5.8ppg) 

Opportunity knocks for Anderson in Memphis due to the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr with a knee issue. The forward's minutes on court have risen as a result – and so, too, has his production. Having never averaged in double digits for points for his previous six seasons in the NBA, Anderson is now up at 16.7 per game for the Grizzlies. Ja Morant was, less surprisingly, on the rise in terms of his scoring output as well, up at 26.3 points per game before suffering an ankle injury. 

Luguentz Dort (14.6ppg versus 6.8ppg) 

Someone has to score points for Oklahoma, right? GM Sam Presti is clearly in it for the long haul in terms of a rebuild, considering the number of moves made in the offseason and draft picks now owned by the team. Still, Dort remains on the roster and has stepped up to accept greater responsibility. The Canadian has raised his successful three-point attempts from an average of 0.8 to 2.4 a game, shooting an impressive 44.4 per cent from deep. Team-mate Isaiah Roby is another to catch the eye for the Thunder, averaging 13 points and 6.5 total rebounds.


GOING COLD...

Devonte' Graham (9.0ppg versus 18.2ppg)

The moment Charlotte selected fellow point guard LaMelo Ball with the third pick in the draft, Graham was under pressure. He retained his starting job in the Hornets' backcourt but the pressure is mounting now, considering the form of both players. While Ball seems to be a quick learner after some preseason concerns, his teammate has struggled. Graham is at just nine points per game - half his average from the previous season. His three-point shooting has dipped to 2.0 made per outing from 3.5. He forced himself off the bench and into the rotation for the Hornets last year, yet could soon find himself moving in the opposite direction.

Jimmy Butler (8.3ppg versus 19.9ppg)

There are reasons behind the five-time NBA All-Star's sluggish start. Butler has featured in just three games so far - and one of those he only played in the first half, with an ankle issue keeping him off the court for the remainder of the clash with the Pelicans. He averaged 19.9 per game for a Heat team that made it all the way to the Finals last term. The early going has seen an 11.6-point decrease in his scoring output, though expect that to rise as the weeks progress.

Kelly Oubre Jr. (9.7ppg versus 18.7ppg)

Oubre was on the merry-go-round headlined by Chris Paul going from Oklahoma to Phoenix. His form last season with the Suns was not enough for the Thunder to keep him around, though, as they dealt him to Golden State. It has not been plain sailing with the Warriors; while not required to contribute quite so much on offense for his new team, the concern is his three-point shooting. Having made 1.9 on average per game last season, Oubre's been successful with two of his 30 attempts so far. The early report card for him reads as such: Must do better.

The Milwaukee Bucks face an old foe in their first double-header of the NBA season as they visit the Miami Heat this week.

The Bucks were the top seed in the East in 2019-20 but crashed out of the playoffs to the Heat, who went on to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

After a difficult start to the new campaign, falling to 1-2 with a shock defeat at the New York Knicks, Milwaukee face a tricky road trip.

The Bucks are in Miami to play the Heat on both Tuesday and Wednesday to close out 2020, with the initial game their first meeting since last season's one-sided playoff series.

Jimmy Butler was key to that success but is now being assessed day-to-day as he manages an ankle injury.

"I don’t have an update today," coach Erik Spoelstra said on Sunday. "We'll just continue to get him treatment and then we'll put together a plan."

Milwaukee must have a plan, too, as they aim to recover from their Knicks humbling and gain revenge for last year.
 

TOP PERFORMERS

Miami Heat - Bam Adebayo

If Butler does miss out, that would deal a big blow to the Heat's hopes of again getting the better of the Bucks.

The influential small forward, who averaged 23.4 points per game in their playoff series, taunted Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo as he claimed: "He can't guard me!"

Veteran Andre Iguodala may come in for Butler, but Adebayo would become Miami's main man in his absence.

Adebayo signed a record-breaking five-year contract extension in November off the back of his performances last season as he made the All-Defensive Second Team and then averaged 17.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals in the postseason.

The 23-year-old shows no signs of slowing and in the Heat's season opener against the Orlando Magic had 25 points for just the fifth time in his regular season career, all of which have occurred since December 2019.

Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks' past two outstanding regular seasons have been built on back-to-back MVP campaigns from main man Antetokounmpo, but he has not yet delivered in the postseason.

 Antetokounmpo will not lack motivation this week as he takes on the team that dealt him such a testing playoff experience in the bubble.

Having averaged 30.6 points against Orlando in the first round - a 4-1 series win - Antetokounmpo's season steadily turned sour over the course of a back-and-forth with Miami.

His foul on Butler gave the Heat talisman game-winning walk-off free throws in Game 2, securing a 2-0 Miami lead, and Antetokounmpo then twisted his ankle in Game 3.

He was subsequently limited in Game 4 and missed Game 5 altogether as the Heat clinched their own 4-1 series triumph.

Beset by these injury problems, the league's dominant regular season player saw his average drop to 21.8 points per game in an Eastern Conference Semifinals exit.
 

KEY BATTLE: CAN BUCKS GET GIANNIS FREE?

For Antetokounmpo to be Milwaukee's top performer, they must provide a platform for him to succeed. It was at Miami last season that the issue with relying so heavily on Antetokounmpo was laid bare.

Even before a painful postseason series, the Bucks had twice been beaten by the Heat, suffering their second-largest defeat by point differential of the 2019-20 campaign in their 105-89 road reverse in March.

That game saw Milwaukee's worst offensive output of the season, too, as Miami effectively stifled the 'Greek Freak'.

Antetokounmpo had just 13 points, only scoring fewer when he played a mere 10 minutes against the Washington Wizards, as he shot 6-18 from the floor and 0-4 from three.

The Heat shared their defensive duties around, as Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr, Butler and Goran Dragic all faced Antetokounmpo, but it was the former who had most joy.

Adebayo, who finished with three blocks and a steal, defended  Antetokounmpo on 10 of his field goal attempts, of which he made just two.

This was still a team effort, though, with the home side able to create a wall between Antetokounmpo and the paint, forcing him to rely on a flimsy mid-range shot.

With Jrue Holiday signed and Khris Middleton again impressing - averaging a career-high 26.7 points over three games - the Bucks will hope they have enough options to keep Miami occupied and give  Antetokounmpo some space this time around.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Bucks did earn a pair of victories against the Heat last season but went down 2-1 over their regular season series and 4-1 in the playoffs.

Miami's dominance in this game is nothing new, though.

The three-time NBA champions boast a 70-45 lead over Milwaukee all-time in the regular season, while their postseason advantage stands at 8-1, having swept the Bucks en route to the 2013 title.

Not many expected the Miami Heat to make a run to the NBA Finals in 2019-20 but that is exactly what they did.

The Heat missed the playoffs in two of the three previous seasons heading into the campaign, while their last Finals appearance was in 2014.

But the arrival of Jimmy Butler and Miami's unity ignited the Heat before and after the coronavirus-enforced break.

The Heat were locked-in at Walt Disney World Resort, where Erik Spoelstra's side made it all the way to the showpiece.

While the Heat fell short 4-2 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the best-of-seven series, there was plenty of upside in Miami.

As the Heat look to build on a stellar season, we review the team's 2019-20 campaign using Stats Perform data.

 

Heat defy odds

Miami had their work cut out in a stacked Eastern Conference, headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the high-flying Milwaukee Bucks, defending champions the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics and the championship-chasing Philadelphia 76ers.

The hard-playing Heat ended the regular season with a 44-29 record – ahead of the 76ers and good enough for the fifth seed.

Miami became the fourth team in history seeded fifth or worse to reach the NBA Finals, following the Houston Rockets (sixth seeds in 1995 and 1981) and New York Knicks (eighth seeds in 1999).

Before going into the Orlando bubble, the Heat were a far better team at home than on the road.

The Heat boasted a 27-5 home record, compared to 14-19 away from Miami (42.0 per cent differential) – only the 76ers (29-2 at home and 10-24 on the road) had a greater differential of 64.1 per cent.

 

Butler silences critics

The maligned five-time All-Star landed in Miami after brief stints in Philadelphia and Minnesota.

After falling out in Minnesota, Butler departed the Timberwolves for the 76ers in 2018. He almost led Philadelphia to the NBA Finals, but Kawhi Leonard's buzzer-beating shot in Game 7 lifted the Raptors to a stunning win in the second round.

Plagued by question marks over his attitude, Butler opted to leave the 76ers for the Heat in a sign and trade, and the 31-year-old finally looks at home in Miami.

Featuring in his first NBA Finals, Butler led the Heat in scoring (26.2 points per game), rebounding (8.3 rebounds per game) and assists (9.8 assists per game). That included a 40-point, 11-rebound, 13-assist effort in Miami's Game 3 win, just the third 40-point triple-double in Finals history (and the only one in a win).

Butler almost singlehandedly carried the injury-hit Heat – who were without stars Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic for large parts of the series – past the Lakers, playing 258 minutes in six games, more than LeBron James, Anthony Davis and any other player.

 

Rookies fire Heat

The Heat received big contributions from first-year players Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, who averaged 15.3 and 13.5 points per game respectively.

They were the first NBA team to have multiple rookies average at least 13.0 ppg since the 2001-02 Memphis Grizzlies (Pau Gasol and Shane Battier; minimum 40 games played). The only other such Heat rookie duo was Sherman Douglas (14.3 ppg) and Glen Rice (13.6 ppg) in 1989-90.

Nunn's 15.3 points per game were the most by an undrafted rookie in 70 years – Frankie Brian averaged 17.8 per game with the 1949-50 Anderson Packers.

As for Duncan Robinson, he took a huge step forward in 2019-20, after struggling for game time as a rookie in 2018-19.

Robinson went from averaging 3.3 points per game to 13.5ppg this term (plus-10.2) – only Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young (+10.5) and the Charlotte Hornets' Devonte' Graham (+13.5) enjoyed larger improvements.

Jimmy Butler feels he "grew in every aspect of the game" this season and is convinced the Miami Heat are "trending in the right direction" despite suffering NBA Finals heartbreak.

A 106-93 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers in Sunday's Game 6 in Orlando meant the Heat fell to a 4-2 series loss.

Butler's heroics had helped the Heat get to this stage and he averaged 26.2 points, 9.8 assists and 8.3 rebounds throughout the Finals.

Asked what he learnt about himself, Butler replied: "That I'm a decent player. I think that I grew in every aspect of the game.

"So, I can smile about that. More than anything, I've learned that here, me works. Here, I'm always, always, always, always going to believe in my guys.

"I think the one thing that I learned more than anything is how fun it is to play with these guys. It really was fun watching all my young fellas grow, having vets come in and showcase what they can still do and teach me so much. It was a great time."

While hurting from the loss, Butler is convinced this is just the beginning of something special for the Heat.

He added: "We're trending in the right direction. We're going to learn from this. We're going to get better. We're going to come back. We're going to come back. We'll be back. That's what we're all saying in that locker room.

"We got guys that want to do it. We got guys that already want to get back in the gym and get to working at this thing. That's what we do here.

"Like I said, it was a pleasure to play with these guys. We're definitely moving in the right direction."

Butler finally seems to have a settled home in Miami having had short stints at the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers after ending a six-year stay at the Chicago Bulls in 2017.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra believes both team and player have benefitted from one another.

"I think that's what we're all looking for is to be part of a family," he said.

"To be a part of something where you felt all along that you were searching for something. Where you can just be yourself, you don't have to make any apologies for who you are. We have been searching for him for a long time and I think he's been searching for something like us for a while.

"Again, you're in this business to be around amazing people and to develop incredible relationships.

"It is about the game, it is about winning, but it also is about being around locker rooms that you'll remember for a long, long time. I'm just thrilled to be able to have an opportunity to coach Jimmy and have a relationship with him and move forward chasing this dream. It's not going to stop.

"We're all wired the same. So, we'll get over this at some point. I don't expect anybody to get over it tonight.

"But we have some brothers in arms now moving forward that we share the same values and the same goals and that's part of the battle of just finding that kind of alignment."

The LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers annihilated the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to claim their first championship since 2010.

Jimmy Butler and Miami delayed the Lakers' title celebrations by winning Game 5 to stave off elimination at Walt Disney World on Friday.

But there was no denying the red-hot Lakers on Sunday as the storied franchise ended their 10-year wait for glory with a 4-2 series victory in Orlando, Florida.

James – who broke the record for most playoff appearances with 260 – captured a fourth NBA title after posting his 11th Finals triple-double of 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, while Anthony Davis (19 points and 15 rebounds) had a double-double for his maiden championship.

The Heat were buoyed by the return of star guard Goran Dragic (5 points), who made his comeback from a foot injury, which had sidelined him since Game 1.

But Miami were outplayed from the outset as the Lakers extinguished the Heat with a defensive masterclass.

The Lakers made a hot start, leading 28-20 at the end of the first quarter behind James' nine points, five rebounds and three assists.

Los Angeles showed no mercy as they took a comprehensive 64-36 lead into half-time – 15 points apiece from Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17 points) fuelling the Lakers.

Rajon Rondo (19 points) dazzled off the bench, managing 13 points on six-of-six shooting from the field while he made his only three-point attempt.

It came as no Heat player scored double-digit points through two quarters.

While the Heat were only outscored by a point in the third quarter, the damage was already done as the Lakers cruised to their 17th NBA championship following a season which saw franchise great Kobe Bryant tragically killed in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter in January.

Bam Adebayo led the steamrolled Heat with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Butler put up 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

Jimmy Butler is optimistic the Miami Heat can complete a comeback against the Los Angeles Lakers after staying alive in the NBA Finals.

Butler produced a mammoth performance as the Heat held on to beat the Lakers 111-108 in a wild contest on Friday to force a Game 6.

The Heat trailed 3-1 and faced elimination heading into Game 5 at Walt Disney World Resort as the Lakers looked to seal a first championship since 2010.

But Butler went head-to-head against LeBron James and came out on top with a triple-double, posting 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists to cut the Lakers' series lead to 3-2.

The Heat still face a difficult battle overhauling the Lakers, but Miami star Butler fancies his team's chances ahead of Sunday's sixth showdown in Orlando, Florida.

"I'm sure they [Lakers] wanted to win, thought they was going to win coming into it. As did we," Butler told reporters following a game which featured seven lead changes during the final three minutes.

"But it was a hard-fought game, I think it's going to be even harder for us next game, but I like our chances."

"I can say it every time I'm up here, but we live for these moments," he said. "Like the work that we put in, we're built for this, we have been doing this all year long. This didn't just start in the bubble. We have been playing together, win, loss, draw, whatever, we're in this thing together. And that's what's going to win us games.

"I think night in and night out it could be anybody. It could be Bam [Adebayo], it could be hopefully Goran [Dragic]. Like we're so together when we're out there on the floor, off the floor, that's why we win because everybody wants everybody to be successful.

Butler became the first player with a 35-point triple-double in the NBA Finals when facing elimination since James Worthy in 1988 Game 7, according to Stats Perform.

"That's what my team asks of me, that's what they need me to do, and I think coach Pat [Riley] and Coach [Erik] Spoelstra brought me here for that reason; to help us win games and I have to continue to do that for two more games," Butler said.

"I know that I'm capable of it, but I got a hell of a group of guys around me that make my job a lot easier. I'm fortunate for those guys because when I pass it to them they make shots. When I get beat going to the rim, they're there. So we're in this thing together and they give me a lot of confidence to go out there and hoop."

The five-time All-Star played 47 gruelling minutes to help his team and struggled to walk off the podium following his news conference.

"I left it all out there on the floor along with my guys, and that's how we're going to have to play from here on out," Butler continued. "Like I always say, it's win or win for us. But this is the position that we're in. We like it this way. We got two more in a row to get."

"I know that I'm capable of it. I believe in my skill set and my talent. My team-mates do as well. But it's not just me, Duncan [Robinson] had a hell of a game, [Kendrick] Nunn came in and did what K-Nunn did. Bam had a huge one. All of us, all of us was the reason that we won this game and it's going to be the same way for the next two."

Jimmy Butler was instrumental again with a 35-point triple-double as the Miami Heat prevailed 111-108 in a breathtaking Game 5 to put the Los Angeles Lakers' NBA championship party on ice.

The Heat trailed 3-1 in the NBA Finals and faced elimination heading into Friday's showdown at Walt Disney World Resort, where LeBron James' Lakers were looking to seal a first title since 2010.

But Butler had other ideas, finishing with 12 rebounds and 11 assists to help the rallying Heat stay alive and force a Game 6 in the best-of-seven series in Orlando, Florida on Sunday.

Butler became the first player with a 35-point triple-double in the NBA Finals when facing elimination since James Worthy in 1988 Game 7, according to Stats Perform.

James – who had 40 points and 13 rebounds – also became the first player to post 40-plus points in a loss with a chance to clinch in the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan in Game 5 in 1993, per Stats Perform.

Heat star Butler and James went head-to-head in stunning fashion, and the former came out on top down the stretch, which featured seven lead changes during the final three minutes.

The Lakers had trailed for most of the game, having not led since the first quarter, but they moved ahead 97-96 on a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three-pointer with just over six minutes remaining.

But with their backs against the wall, the Heat never surrendered as Butler and Duncan Robinson (26 points) continued to step up in clutch moments.

Robinson made a pair of three-pointers in the final period, including a huge 27-foot jumper from beyond the arc to give the Heat a 101-99 lead before James levelled things up again with back-to-back free throws.

It was box office entertainment as Butler and James traded shots, while Anthony Davis' two had the Lakers up 108-107 with 21.8 seconds on the clock.

However, Butler made a pair of free throws to restore Miami's advantage 16.8 seconds from the end before team-mate Tyler Herro also nailed both of his free throws to seal victory.

Davis put up 28 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, but struggled late in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury.

Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat remain confident they can overturn a series deficit in the NBA Finals, despite the Los Angeles Lakers being one win away from the championship.

The Heat meet LeBron James and the Lakers in Game 5 on Friday, trailing 3-1 and facing defeat in the Finals at Walt Disney World Resort.

Miami face an uphill battle as the Lakers stand on the cusp of their first title since 2010 but Heat star Butler is refusing to surrender in Orlando.

"I don't think it's pressure," Butler told reporters on Thursday. "I think it's just win. Ain't nobody thinking about going home over here. It's just win, so there is no pressure.

"We're expected to win. That's our job. It's not win or go home, it's win or win. That's how we think about it."

"We know what we do every day," the five-time All-Star continued. "I mean, we just love to compete with one another. We realise that there's a chance that it won't look the same next year, but we're in it for the right now. We're going to give everything that we have for one another.

"And like I said, we go back and we're looking at stuff and we're correcting stuff, and we're like, damn, we see it on film. We've just got to be able to see these things in the game.

"So you know, everybody is looking forward to it. Everybody is ready to compete, ready to get one."

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, who led Miami to championships in 2012 and 2013 during James' time with the franchise, added: "We think it's a really competitive series.

"We have a purpose of why we're here. We're competing for a title and it's the first team to four wins. There's a lot of different narratives out there -- we don't give a s*** what everybody else thinks.

"This is everything that we wanted this year, an opportunity to fight for, compete for a title. And that hasn't changed at all through these first games."

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers to within one game of their first NBA Championship in a decade after girinding out a 102-96 game four win against the Miami Heat.

James was restricted to eight points in a closely-contested first half but the ex-Miami superstar put up 20 second-half points to record a game-high 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to send Los Angeles 3-1 ahead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series.

Anthony Davis (22 points) played a key supporting role, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (15 points) made a pair of clutch fourth-quarter plays that extended the lead from two points to seven with two minutes to play.

Miami’s Jimmy Butler backed up his sensational game three performance by leading his team in scoring with 22 points, while rookie Tyler Herro (21 points) and Duncan Robinson (17 points) help keep the Heat’s chances alive in Orlando, Florida.

Jimmy Butler will keep telling his mind and "nicked up" body to "cut it out" and go through the pain barrier as the Miami Heat strive for NBA glory.

Butler scored 40 points, provided 13 assists and grabbed 11 rebounds to inspire the Heat to a 115-104 NBA Finals Game 3 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

The Heat will attempt to maintain the momentum and level the seven-match series at Walt Disney World in Florida on Tuesday.

Five-time All-Star Butler has played almost every minute of the last two games and was fouled 11 times in his magnificent performance last time out.

Butler knows his body will come in for more punishment but is ready to suffer with so much at stake.

Asked how he goes about getting ready for Game 4, he said: "A lot of rest, a lot of treatment, a lot of everything. But I think a lot of it's mental.

"You know your body is going to be hurt, but you've got to tell your mind and tell your body to cut it out. And I think that's where I'm at at this point.

"Everybody is hurting, not just me. Everybody on my roster, everybody on the Lakers' roster. We're all nicked up. We've all got some pain. But we're all coming out there to compete."

Butler hopes his exploits have made basketball fans realise his burning desire to be successful.

Asked what he thinks NBA fans may have learned about him, he replied: "For me, that I'm just all about winning. I'll do whatever you ask me to do, if you can guarantee me a win. I realise that nothing is guaranteed.

"But I'll do whatever you ask me to do to put my team in the best position to win. That's it."

The Miami Heat are back in the NBA Finals. Thanks, Jimmy Butler.

A sweep looked to be well and truly on the cards. Miami were without center Bam Adebayo and point guard Goran Dragic again in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers, which they went into 2-0 down.

They needed Butler to step up. He answered the call emphatically, changing the complexion of the series significantly ahead of Game 4 on Tuesday.

The five-time All-Star scored 40 points together with 13 assists and 11 rebounds in a determined, gritty 45 minutes on the floor, bringing the Heat back from the brink.

"How else do you say it other than Jimmy effing Butler," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.

"But this is what he wanted, this is what we wanted. It's really hard to analyse or describe Jimmy until you actually feel him between the four lines.

"He's a supreme, elite competitor and we needed it."

Among the greats

Butler became only the third player with a 40-point triple-double in Finals history and the first to get one in a winning effort. It was also the first time the Lakers have seen an opponent register a 40-point triple-double against them in playoff history.

The nine-year forward spent much of the second half guarding LeBron James, whose playmaking abilities helped Frank Vogel's side twice erase double-digit deficits and even move in front in the fourth quarter.

James is bidding to win his fourth ring against his former team but Butler made sure he will not waltz to the championship by joining LeBron (four) as the only Heat players with 40-point triple-doubles in the playoffs.

Butler's 40-point haul represents the joint-fifth most scored in the Finals while down 2-0 or 3-0, while it was the biggest in a triple-double when trailing by either of those scores.

Dominating in the paint

The Heat struggled to control Anthony Davis and James in the paint during the first two games but Butler turned that narrative on its head on Sunday.

He scored 24 of his 40 points in the paint, a total only bettered in the Finals since play-by-play data became available by LeBron (30 in 2017 Game 5 and 26 in 2018 Game 1) and Kyrie Irving (26 in 2017 Game 1).

Butler also made 12 free throws, the sixth time this postseason he has been in double digits from the stripe – more than any other player.

"In terms of the physicality, this is why Jimmy prepares the way he does that is so uncommon, year-round. Just to be able to take on that physicality, to make those plays, to be able to draw fouls and take contact and get up and be able to make those free throws," said Spoelstra.

"It's so settling when you have that type of guy in a really competitive game like this. It allows your other guys, and we're playing young guys, they can just be who they are, they don't have to worry about too much pressure or context.

"They can just be who they are when you have somebody like that that takes on all the pressure for them."

Just like Dwyane

Butler also poured in 40 points against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals – James (2011-12) and Dwyane Wade (2004-05 and 2005-06) are the only other Heat players to have hit that total twice in a single postseason.

There are further parallels between Butler and his fellow Marquette product Wade, too.

Wade scored 42 points in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, which proved to be the first of four straight wins as Miami rallied from 2-0 down to defeat the Dallas Mavericks.

"Obviously this was a very desperate, urgent game and [Butler] was doing it on both ends of the court, just put his imprint on every important part of the game," said Spoelstra.

"He's in the top percentile of this entire association in terms of conditioning and you saw he just got stronger as the game went on.

"But in terms of you saying a Marquette guy … Dwyane swore to us, he looked Pat [Riley] and I dead in the eye and said, 'This is your guy. This is the next guy.'"

Butler will be hoping to emulate Wade and lead the Heat to glory after a stunning Game 3 display.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James hailed Jimmy Butler after fuelling the Miami Heat's 115-104 win in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Butler carried the load for the short-handed Heat, posting 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds as Miami reduced the Lakers' lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series at Walt Disney World Resort on Sunday.

Heat star Butler became the first player with 40-plus points and 12-plus assists in an NBA Finals game since Jerry West in 1969, per Stats Perform.

Butler also joined James (2015) and West (1969) as the only players in NBA history to record a 40-plus point triple-double in the Finals.

"I thought Jimmy was phenomenal," James, who led the underwhelming Lakers with 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, said afterwards. "He did everything that they needed him to do tonight and he came through big time in a big-time game.

"We'll watch film and see ways we can be better going into Game 4. But I thought he was great."

Butler and Lakers superstar James went head-to-head throughout in Orlando, Florida.

There were verbal exchanges between James and Butler, with both heard saying "you're in trouble" in the first and fourth quarters.

Asked if he enjoys playing against Butler, James replied: "Love it. Love it. One of the best competitors we have in our game. We love that opportunity.

"For me personally, I don't know how many more opportunities I'm going to have, so to be able to go against a fierce competitor like that is something I'll look back on when I'm done playing. I'll miss those moments."

The Lakers struggled from the outset, falling behind 22-9 early in the opening quarter as Anthony Davis' headlined their woes.

Davis – scoreless in the opening period – posted five turnovers and four fouls, finishing with just 15 points against the red-hot Heat, while James had eight turnovers as the Lakers tallied 19 overall.

"We know that we can't turn the ball over versus this team," three-time champion James said. "They are very active defensively. It starts with myself, being the starting point guard of the team, having five first-half turnovers, eight total for the game. Can't do that, obviously, because it gives them more possessions and doesn't allow us to set our defense.

"They are really, really good offensively, so you just can't turn the ball over against that team. I take full responsibility for that."

On Davis, James added: "He got into some foul trouble. One of the shots he made when he had four fouls, they still tried to slide underneath him and get him a fifth in the third.

"I think the foul trouble made him a little passive, because he wanted to be out on the floor but he couldn't be his aggressive self offensively and defensively. I think the fouls slowed him down a lot tonight."

Jimmy Butler dismissed his stunning triple-double after inspiring the Miami Heat to a crucial 115-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Without injured pair Bam Adebayo (neck) and Goran Dragic (foot) and trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, Butler led the way by scoring 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds on Sunday.

Butler became the first player with 40-plus points and 12-plus assists in an NBA Finals game since Jerry West in 1969, per Stats Perform, as the Heat cut the Lakers' lead to 2-1 at Walt Disney World Resort.

The five-time All-Star also joined LeBron James (2015) and West (1969) as the only players in NBA history to record a 40-plus point triple-double in the Finals, but Butler played down the feat.

"We won," Butler told reporters post-game. "I could care less about a triple-double. We play this game to win.

"I'm glad my team-mates got a lot of trust and faith in me to go out there and hoop like that, but like I always say, you guarantee me a win, I could care less."

Butler added: "Everybody remembers winning, that's it. They don't care how many points you score, they only care if you won or lost. For us we're all about winning. We are. I say it all the time but I mean it. The guys that we have, the group that Coach Pat and Coach Spo put together it's always to win, nothing else.

"So I hope the next game I score zero and y'all talk all you want to talk and we win so I come up here and say the same thing."

"You got to empty the tank on every possession, especially playing against a great team like the Lakers," said Butler, who played 45 minutes for the second game in succession.

"But we got a good team. Like I say, I got the easy job. These guys create so much space for me, I get to shoot it whenever I'm open, pass it whenever I'm not. I really do have the easy job. But none of us, none of us are ever going to leave anything in the tank. We're going to lay it all out there on the floor."

Butler and Lakers superstar James went head-to-head throughout in Orlando, Florida.

James – eyeing his fourth championship – led the Lakers with 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, but he had eight turnovers.

There were verbal exchanges between James and Butler, with both heard saying "you're in trouble" in the first and fourth quarters.

"I mean, that's competition at its finest. I think LeBron has got the best of me way too many times," Butler said.

"I respect the guy for it, but this is a different time now, a different group of guys that I have around me, and we are here to win, we are here to compete. But we're not going to lay down, we're going to fight back in this thing, even it up 2-2."

Pressed on his verbal clash with James, Butler added: "First of all, I'm not just out there talking trash because I'm not. LeBron said that to me at the end of the first, that's what happened. I just said it to him in the fourth quarter.

"And talking about playing damn near perfect, we did a good job of that tonight. We rebounded the basketball, which is what we always talked about. We got back. But I think guys are starting to realise how much we belong on this stage and that we are in The Finals for a reason.

"To tell you the truth, I think when we get these other two guys back, they're going to make everybody's job including mine a lot easier. So I'm excited, but we still got to play better moving forward."

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