The adage is of NBA players waiting for this moment, when the start of the playoffs can begin a trail to a championship.
For Max Strus, it is a moment years in the making, nothing close in his basketball career, as he is poised to take the court as a postseason starter for the Miami Heat on Sunday at 1 p.m. at FTX Arena.
To put into perspective how unique this moment stands is to listen to Strus chronicle his postseason path at each level of his basketball journey.
High school: “I won a regional championship, which is winning the first round. So we made the second round and lost.”
Lewis University: “I played in the D-II NCAA Tournament. We made it to the second round.”
DePaul University: “We lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament both years.”
Ah, but then nearly a conquest.
“My last year at DePaul,” the emerging Heat guard said, “we played in the CBI Tournament. We lost the championship game.”
As in the College Basketball Invitational, as in the season-ending field that is cobbled together after nearly 100 schools are first selected for the NCAA Tournament and National Invitation Tournament.
And, yes, DePaul did make it to that championship round, before losing 2-1 in a best-of-three series to South Florida.
But when it comes to postseasons with meaning, the first true such moment is at hand for the 26-year-old 3-point specialist, especially with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra having reshuffled his mix to move Strus into his starting lineup.
“I’m taking everything in and just being super grateful for it,” Strus said of the opportunity, as the Heat continue playoff preparations. “It’s still pretty surreal, all of this.”
Entering these playoffs, Strus has 5 minutes, 47 seconds of career NBA playoff experience, encompassing a pair of mop-up stints during last season’s first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.
To put that into perspective, Kyle Lowry has played 3,397 career playoff minutes, Jimmy Butler 3,008, P.J. Tucker 2,341. And Bam Adebayo, the Heat’s other projected playoff starter, played 687 minutes in the 2020 playoffs, alone.
So to say this will all be new to Strus is massive understatement.
“I don’t think anything’ll be different if he approaches it the same way with the same work ethic,” said Heat captain Udonis Haslem, who has played 3,194 career playoff minutes. “I like young fellas, full of no fear. Those guys really have no fear.”
Strus isn’t going that far
“Obviously it’s my first playoffs, really, that I’m going to play in,” he said, “so I’m really excited and looking forward to it. It’s just another opportunity.”
With the Heat having this week to prepare, Strus said he is soaking it all in from the team’s playoff veterans.
“They’re going to be helping me out every single step of the way,” he said. “They’ve already been talking to me, Kyle, Jimmy, P.J. OG [Haslem]. Everybody here, we’re all here for the same reason. They’re going to helping me every single time, every time I need it. Hopefully I’ll be ready.”
Already, he has sensed opponents getting ready. As his minutes went up during the regular season, as his 3-point percentage went up, so did defensive attention. But also so did the attention from Lowry.
“It’s definitely been different,” Strus said. “Definitely teams are definitely not losing me as much. So it’s definitely an adjustment.
“But we’ve got one of the best point guards in the league that always seems to find me and put me in the right situations. So I just rely on my teammates, and they’ve been doing a great job of preparing me for success.”
Strus joked that he went through last season’s playoffs practically unnoticed. This time, he was among the first players requested for a postseason media session.
“Last year, nobody knew who I was,” he said with a laugh. “Nah, it’s pretty cool.
“Everybody’s got to raise their game and I’m prepared and ready to do so.”