Jimmy Butler says that his budding rivalry with T.J. Warren is “dead.”
The Miami Heat’s All-Star swingman wanted to make that clear as his team gets set for its first-round playoff series against Warren and the Indiana Pacers.
“Look, I just play basketball,” Butler said during a video call with reporters after Sunday’s practice. “I’m going to go out there and be the best player on the floor. That’s what Miami has me here to do. I’m not worried about nobody’s matchup, man. We can kill that. That’s dead, that’s something that’ll pass. Everybody wants to make a story out of it, but my job isn’t against T.J. Warren, it’s against the Indiana Pacers, and my job is to help the Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers.”
Butler and Warren’s matchup garnered national attention following a Jan. 8 Heat win in Indianapolis in which the pair exchanged words and had to be separated during the game. After it was over, Butler said that Warren was “trash” and that Warren couldn’t guard him.
Butler and the Heat got the best of Warren again last week in another win over the Pacers in which Warren, who dominated the early games in the bubble, was held to just 12 points and went 5-for-14 from the field. Both the Heat and Pacers rested several key players — including Butler and Warren — during Friday’s Pacers win which clinched the fourth seed for Indiana. Butler said that the Heat’s success against the Pacers in the regular season doesn’t matter as they go into the postseason.
“I don’t think anybody’s worried about us winning three out of four, them losing three out of four,” Butler said. “It’s a different style of basketball now. It’s a different time. The sense of urgency is going to be at an all-time high. So we can’t be focused on what we did in the past. Everything that we’re going over now is how we’re going to continually get better, how we can beat this team four times. So we leave the regular season in the regular season, everything that happened back then, leave it there.”
While Butler is well aware of the hype surrounding his matchup with Warren, he’s also relishing the chance to lead the Heat to prominence as the face of the proud team. Butler has embraced the strong Heat culture since signing with the team as a free agent last July.
“Now’s the time to play your best basketball,” Butler said. “To do whatever it takes to make sure that your team can win. I know that myself, I know that my teammates, the coaches, this organization, know that I’m capable of making that, so now it’s just me going out there and doing just that and helping this team win some games.”
Butler’s teammates and coaches believe that the playoffs are really his time to shine.
“If you don’t know, check his résumé,” Heat forward Jae Crowder said. “This is when he comes alive, when the pressure’s on and his back is against the wall and he wants to prove a point and prove that we as a team and [a Butler-led] team can win ball games; this is when he comes alive. And I feel like that speaks just about who he is as a person and who he is as a basketball player and the work he puts into it so I don’t feel like he feels there’s any pressure on him. I think collectively we feel like we’re in a good mind state and we feel like we can attack these playoffs and do what we have to do to win ball games.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has praised Butler’s work ethic and leadership throughout the season and is confident that the stakes that come with playoff basketball will bring the best out of his game.
“He chose us for a reason and we chose him for a reason,” Spoelstra said. “And we’re finally here. This is when everybody is looking forward to the competition and the intensity of the games and seeing what your team is made of.”
For Butler, it’s a challenge that he is ready to attack. He knows the tough-minded Pacers won’t be easy to knock out, but he is ready to do what he can to slow down Warren and lead his team into the next round.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Butler said. “But I think we got some dogs.”