Late March and early April is one of the most exciting times of the year for basketball fans. The NBA Playoffs are right around the corner. This year, the NBA title is up for grabs; there are teams with good records, but no sure-fire favorite to win it all. Amidst all the chatter, one of the most interesting conversations revolves around the Eastern Conference. Which contender will emerge victorious and advance all the way to the NBA Finals? The Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Brooklyn Nets deserve the consideration they’ve received, but the Miami Heat are often overlooked. Let’s take a closer look at why the Heat organization deserves more attention, and the reasons they are legitimate contenders to reach the NBA Finals this season.
Miami Heat Disrespected in Eastern Conference
Core Group of Veterans
In any teamwork-oriented environment, one of the deciding factors will inevitably be leadership. Rookies and second-year players can certainly be talented. The best teams, however, are often led by players who have been through the fire, understand the grind of an 82-game-season, and have been proven in the playoffs. The Miami Heat are a team that fits this description to a tee.
Their leading man is Jimmy Butler, a perennial All-Star who has earned the respect of his peers throughout the league. Their starting point guard is Kyle Lowry, an elite point guard with multiple All-Star nods on his resume. They are also led by Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, two exceptional young players who are sure to become perennial All-Stars and gain multiple All-NBA selections before their careers are over. These four players have proven themselves on the basketball court and on the NBA’s biggest stage. If any one of them has an epic performance in a playoff game, it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
Been There Before
Even on a team full of veterans, a team often lacks deep playoff experience. The Dallas Mavericks are a prime example. Since the All-Star break, they have been trending in the right direction. They are led by Luka Dončić, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jalen Brunson, and Tim Hardaway Jr. Dončić is a generational talent and Dallas’ front office has surrounded him with solid pros. However, none of these four players have been deep in the NBA playoffs. Yes, they are a veteran ballclub but extensive playoff experience does not exist among them.
The Miami Heat on the other hand have a recent deep playoff run under their belts. In 2020, they surprised the basketball world by upsetting the number one seed Milwaukee Bucks on their way to an NBA Finals birth. Although they eventually fell to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, many of the players from that memorable run are still on the roster today. Furthermore, Kyle Lowry won an NBA championship as a member of the Toronto Raptors in 2019. Overlooking the Heat is a mistake other Eastern Conference teams can’t afford to make. They have what it takes to get the job done; they’ve already proven that.
Experienced Head Coach
Last week, the Miami Heat got into an intense argument on the sidelines between their head coach and several players. When asked about the argument in the press conference, Coach Erik Spoelstra joked that the team was trying to decide what dinner arrangements would look like that evening. The ability to make light of what some members of the media considered serious speaks to not only the maturity of the players involved but the wisdom of the coach leading them. Arguments are bound to happen from time to time when you have guys like Jimmy Butler and Udonis Haslem in your locker room.
Erik Spoelstra has been a member of the Miami Heat organization since finishing his collegiate playing days in the early 90’s. He matured from a video editor to an assistant coach, and eventually became the head coach with Pat Riley’s blessing. Spoelstra has won three NBA championships during his tenure and coached several Hall Of Fame players. He knows how to handle big egos, and more importantly, big moments. When the going gets tough in the NBA playoffs, the Miami Heat have a coach who won’t shrink under the spotlight; he’s been there before.
The 1994 Seattle Supersonics had the best regular-season record in the NBA. They were led by two All-Stars, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. They also had an impressive supporting cast in Detlef Schrempf, Hersey Hawkins, Kendal Gill, and Nate McMillan. There were many pundits predicting that the Sonics would win their first title since 1979 that season. However, the team blew a two games to none lead over the Denver Nuggets and became the first number one seed to lose a playoff series to an eighth seed. You may ask yourself, how did this happen? The answer is simple: the Sonics were built for the regular season; they did not have a fourth-quarter closer to stop the bleeding when the battle intensified.
The Miami Heat do not have this problem. In Jimmy Butler, they have a player who has proven that he gets better as a series prolongs, and somehow saves his best basketball for the later rounds of the playoffs. In Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals, Butler scored 35 points on his way to a triple-double. The epic performance delayed the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship celebration and kept the Heat alive for another day. Throughout his career, Butler has had many clutch fourth-quarter performances. If the Heat find themselves in a close playoff game, they know they have a closer who can alter the momentum and impact the outcome of the game in their favor.
The Miami Heat are currently in first place in the Eastern Conference. However, many reporters and media outlets are projecting other teams to advance further than them in the playoffs. The Heat are a veteran bunch, led by an experienced head coach, and equipped with a proven closer. If opponents overlook the Heat the way the media has, they will surely regret it. The Eastern Conference playoff will be fun to watch this season; there a lot of good teams to go with a lot of interesting storylines. All season long, the Heat have been proving that they’re just as deserving of the interest as anybody and equally capable of winning on any given night.