Dave Hyde: Time for Jimmy Butler to show up and make closing statement of Heat regular season

Let’s not mince words: It’s time for Jimmy Butler to show up. As in play each Miami Heat game. As in care when he does play.

It’d be even better if he donned the cape, flipped the switch, went into the phone booth (can Superman even find a phone booth?) or did whatever he’s done the past several years in becoming the Playoff Jimmy superhero he’s been for the Heat.

That’s assuming he still can take over games, night after night, at age 34. The numbers say he can. His chosen nights to shine do, too. But that’s part of the intrigue here. When does meandering through a season stop being a choice and become a way of life?

The NBA playoffs haven’t begun, but this stretch in front of the Heat will go a good way in deciding their playoff fate. These final games are scary. Tightwire-walk scary. There are eight games left against many of the teams they’re battling for playoffs spots starting with home games against the New York Knicks on Tuesday and Philadelphia on Thursday.

The Heat are a half-game off the sixth playoff spot and a first-round matchup with beatable Cleveland. They’re also staring at the abyss of anything below sixth place that involves the dreaded play-in game and series against heavyweights Boston or Milwaukee.

Let’s dismiss the idea they went from the play-in games to the NBA Finals last year, so what’s the big deal? The Baltimore Ravens also won a Super Bowl with quarterback Trent Dilfer. That doesn’t mean that’s the blueprint to winning.

The Heat need Butler to be The Man again. Or at least A Man on the team, especially with Tyler Herro still out. It can be tough to watch Butler wander through winter if you’re wrapped up in the regular season. Maybe if you’re Bam Adebayo, too, giving your all, making each night matter, being the very definition of the worker-bee “Heat Culture” concept the franchise turned into a marketing tool.

A week ago Butler went to The Miami Open for eight hours and didn’t play the next night. The official ruling: He was sick. He blended into the background with 17 points and seven rebounds in Sunday’s easy win against Washington, except for five points when he rose up and cemented the night. See what’s at play?

There’s plenty in Butler’s season to think he’s playing a purposeful possum again this regular season. He’s shooting 50 percent. That ranks second in his 13-year career to last season’s 53.9 percent. He’s also shooting a career-high 41.3 percent on 3-pointers.

The defining stat to Butler’s regular season hasn’t changed in his five Heat seasons. It’s his games. There’s no complaining about it. There’s even understanding, perhaps even approval, in conserving your body in January and February for more important games coming up.

Butler has played 52 of the Heat’s 74 games thus far. If he plays all eight to the finish, that’s 60 games. That’s right in line with the 58, 52, 57 and 64 games his previous Heat seasons. It’s easy to get caught up in that as the season plays out, especially if you’re bought a ticket.

Once upon a time, NBA stars showed up every night. It came with the idea of a star. Michael Jordan played at least 78 games in 12 of his 14 seasons (not counting his return from baseball in mid-1994-95). He played all 82 games in his last season at age 40 in 2002-03.

“It mattered to me,’’ he said.

Somewhere in the past two decades it quit mattering. You can pinpoint the start of it. It was Friday, November 30, 2012. San Antonio coach Greg Popovich didn’t even have his starters fly to Miami for nationally televised game the night after a Spurs game in Orlando. He rested them. Ticket-buying fans were irate. TNT was irate.

“This is an unacceptable decision by the Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming,’’ NBA Commissioner David Stern said.

Here’s who didn’t have a problem with Popovich’s idea: Other NBA coaches and players. They liked it. Rest players? Why not? Everyone knows 82 games is too many. Getting right for the playoffs is all that matters, right?

Butler has played 21, 4, 17 and 22 playoff games the past four years, too. Look at his production, too. He averaged 21 points last regular-season and 26.9 in the playoffs when the Heat made the NBA Finals. They’ve made the Finals in two of the past four years, and the Eastern Conference Finals another season.

He’s big a primary part — probably the primary part — of all that success. That’s why the Playoff Jimmy name sticks. It’s why this career game plan of sitting out games or meandering in others he does play hasn’t been much of an issue.

But it’s time, isn’t it?

“What matters is getting sixth,’’ Butler said several weeks ago when the Heat hit a down period.

That’s what is at stake now. Eight games left. Sixth place on the line. It’s time for Jimmy to show up and show what he’s been holding back this regular season.