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Kyle Lowry Already Looks So Natural in a Miami Heat Jersey

At some point, the Miami Heat became as much of a lifestyle brand as a basketball team; more notable than their on-court performance is the infrastructure of rah-rah Crossfit-y cultishness that undergirds it. Besides star players like Dwyane Wade or Armani-suited power-players like Pat Riley, the defining feature of the Heat has been an all-encompassing grindset, one where sweatiness is next to godliness. This is what acolytes call Heat Culture, the belief that success can be manifested through a maniacal devotion to pre-dawn shooting drills and top-tier aerobic capacity. 

Last season, though, Miami’s offense went adrift, straying from the intricate, fluid offense that propelled them to the Finals in the bubble. Even during that prolonged stretch where Jimmy Butler decided he never wanted to leave Disney World and Tyler Herro mutated into a sneering hellion, the Heat never had the individual talent to win simply; instead, their offense is dependent on the ability to sustain symbiosis between their diffuse parts.

When it works, Heat’s multi-pronged attack places immense mental and physical strain on all five defenders—no one team has the personnel to withstand Butler’s brutish, gnarly scoring while also limiting Bam Adebayo’s playmaking while also sticking with Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro as they careen around screens. Now, after sign-and-trading for Kyle Lowry, the Heat have added some much-needed pick-and-roll juice.

But for most of last season, the Heat’s offense was halting and disordered, stumbling to a 111.2 offensive rating that ranked 18th in the NBA. In comparison to their bubbled dynamism, the Heat’s offense last year resembled the hoops version of when Netflix glitches and the audio lags behind the video. 

And after a hectic 13 months that included parts of two NBA seasons, a Finals appearance and a first-round flameout, Miami doubled down on its Miami-ness over the off-season.  Whereas other teams lust after youth and athletic vigor, the Heat opted for players who are attuned with the franchise’s Spartan mentality; their two marquee offseason acquisitions, Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker, are intense, sturdy veterans who possess all the panache of a station wagon. Like the rest of the Heat, the pair are both practitioners of dad-strength basketball, a style borne from years of lived experience and kettlebell curls. As a whole, the Heat may not be particularly strong or fast or tall or sharp-shooting, but they’re so smart and their chemistry comes so naturally that they’re an almost-contender all the same.

So far, the Heat’s bet on themselves has paid off—the Heat have already beaten the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, ostensibly the two favorites in the Eastern Conference. Although it’s silly to read too much into this (the Bucks and Nets have no real incentive to try hard whereas the Heat always try alarmingly hard), these games provide a rough proof of concept of what the Heat think—hope?—they can become. Against the Bucks, the Heat demonstrated the full breadth of their offensive potency and scored 137 points—they made over 80 percent of their shots at the rim (per Cleaning the Glass) and 40 percent of their threes while maintaining a sparkling 11 percent turnover rate. Against the Nets, the Heat weathered a sloppy shooting night by physically dominating their shrimpier opponent and holding Brooklyn’s allegedly potent offense to 93 points.

Accordingly, it’s easy to forgot Lowry has only been a member of the Heat for three games. Although the 35-year-old Lowry will never replicate the kind of on-ball primacy or volume he commanded during his personal apex in Toronto, his acuity and mastery of the game’s finer details allow him to thrive within any role. Slotted alongside stars like Butler and Bam Adebayo, Lowry is free to focus on silently facilitating frictionless basketball. A short, old guard who was never particularly explosive to begin with, Lowry possesses intangible strengths that are so bulletproof they far outweigh his obvious deficiencies. 

With the Heat, Lowry has an ideal outlet for his off-kilter basketball genius; the Heat, like Lowry, brew a potent mixture of headiness and physicality. Playing with tremendous velocity, Lowry quickly shepherds his team into their offense and steals points in transition against lolling defenses. Too, he has an innate understanding of how to create space, whether by forcing defenders to account for his pull-up three-point shooting or by throwing his ass around to set screens for his teammates. He’s also a shockingly switchable defender despite being only 6’0. Most of all, Lowry is an organizing influence, offering the ligamenture that holds the Heat together. Unsurprisingly, he makes the Heat a faster and more unselfish team, same as he did with the Raptors for years. 

By doing so, Lowry has instantly established himself as a key cog in Miami’s machine, even if he’s averaged just 7.7 points per game and made a putrid 29.6 percent of his shots; on/off stats through only four games are probably too full of noise to be worth anything, but the Heat are 11.4 points per 100 possessions when Lowry is on the court and have won all three contests that he’s played. 

In this sense, the marriage between Lowry and the Heat is so strong because of its unorthodoxy. Lowry is a hugely successful point guard, sans the physical traits that usually accompany hugely successful point guard-dom; in a league where basketball is often likened to dance or poetry or jazz or some other art-house nonsense, the Heat coldly rack up wins by profoundly yucking their opponent’s yum. There’s a certain beauty when form finds its perfect function, no matter how jagged it may be. 

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