The 2020 Miami Heat are far from a Cinderella Story.
After defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the team clinched their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2014. The opponent? The Los Angeles Lakers. Led by the man who took Miami to the promised land in 2013 and 2014, LeBron James. To the casual fan this match-up, on paper, is as lopsided as any finals pairing in recent memory. You’ve got a 5th seeded Heat team (only the third 5th seed-or-lower to make the finals since 1984) that doesn’t have a single player with an All-NBA second-team selection or better in their careers, whereas L.A is led by two guys who combine for 17 All-NBA First Team selections by themselves. It’s inarguable that the Lakers have the two best players in the series by a country mile, and Miami is heading into the Finals being led by a Fringe-Top-15 player in Jimmy Butler, a young Center who just made his first All-Star game in Bam Adebayo, and a rag-tag group of role players.
Despite that, the 2020 Miami Heat are far from a Cinderella Story. How? By practicing what the Lakers preach and cranking it up to 11.
Ever since former eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard signed a vet-minimum contract with the Los Angeles last summer, the team has spoken at length about how the former D-12 can be a “Star in his role”. The gist of the concept is pretty simple: Recognize your job on the team and be the best you possibly can in your spot. In the case of Howard, be a defensive spark-plug off the bench. The humility and dedication that Dwight has put forth in his 6th-Man role has been a godsend for the Lakers. His block-a-game and 7 rebound averages have been huge in keeping the defensive pressure up when the team’s All-Defensive big man Anthony Davis needs a break. It’s that exact mentality that has the Lakers firing on all cylinders in these playoffs. The thing that makes the Heat so dangerous? They’re all-in on the same mentality. Not just one player, but the entire organization.
ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols said when interviewing Miami’s head coach Erik Spoelstra that in her time covering his squads she had never seen him coach a group that is more “Heat-Culture” than this team. That culture is one of relentless-confidence and contagious-unselfishness. This almost mythical “Heat Culture” that Team President Pat Riley has created forces all ego out the door when players put on that famed red-and-black. It’s not just something that looks good on a t-shirt, it’s something that has permeated the Heat organization and led the franchise to six finals appearances since 2005, the most in the association over that span. That being said, Rachel Nichols was absolutely right. This IS the most Heat-Culture team in the Pat Riley era. This isn’t just a squad of players that have figured out how to be stars in their roles, this is a squad that has figured out how to be SUPERSTARS in their roles.
Just look at a player like Duncan Robinson, Miami’s resident sharp-shooter. The former Michigan Wolverine hasn’t just become the Heat’s most reliable option from beyond the arc, he’s transformed into one of the best three-point specialists in the entire NBA. Robinson is taking almost nine-and-a-half three’s a game and is hitting them at a ridiculous 44% clip. That’s by far the best percentage of any player with at least 600 attempts over the course of this season. The most important thing to note: D-Bo is the best shooter in these finals and it’s not even close. Duncan Robinson is the Miami Heat’s Superstar Shooter.
It’s not easy to pin down what EXACTLY Bam Adebayo’s role is on this team, but that’s exactly what makes him so dangerous. The first time All-Star is neck-and-neck with Anthony Davis as arguably the most well-rounded big man in the league. You need a playmaker? Bam can do that. He averaged over five assists per game this season. You need a bucket? Bam can get it done. He’s averaging 18-and-a-half points in these playoffs. You need someone to meet Jayson Tatum at the rim and make a game-saving block to seal up a playoff win? Bam’s your guy. He’s not much of a long-range threat, but he is stellar in every other facet of the game. Bam Adebayo is the Miami Heat’s Superstar Playmaker.
Celtics Legend (and known hater of the Miami Heat) Paul Pierce may not consider Tyler Herro a bucket, but anyone else with a set of eyes would. The former Kentucky Wildcat has blossomed into one of the most lethal scorers left in the bubble during the team’s time in Disney. His 37-point explosion against Boston in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals is one of the best performances in Heat playoff history. Herro is easily the best player coming off of either team’s bench, not to mention one of the best scorers overall. Starter or otherwise. Tyler Herro is the Miami Heat’s Superstar Sixth-Man.
Finally, and most importantly, Jimmy Butler. It’s maybe cliche to say that he’s the heart and soul of the team, but it’s not inaccurate. At 31 years old he probably won’t get to the point where he’s one of the most talented guys in the league, but what he does have is something that can’t be recorded on a stat sheet. Far removed are we from the days of Butler being referred to as a “Locker Room Cancer”. He’s been seen all over social media wearing the uniforms of his fellow teammates and coaches around practice. He’s galvanized this unit and has every single cog of this Heat machine working/playing at their max capacity. Many people criticized the decision for Miami to sign Butler in the first place this past offseason, many even predicting the team to miss the playoffs entirely. Despite that, Jimmy Butler’s leadership has this team not just playing in the postseason, but on the cusp on an NBA Championship. This team doesn’t get this far without him, plain and simple. He’s not just a mouthpiece either. Jimmy G. Buckets (the G is for “gets”, by the way) has really stepped up his play in the bubble, especially in clutch time. In the regular season, Butler was nothing short of horrid from beyond the arc (24.4%), but he’s somehow stepped his game up so much to the point where he is hitting threes at a 36% clip. It’s not just lip service, he is the motor that keeps this team running. Jimmy Butler is the Miami Heat’s Superstar Leader.
Throw in a slew of very talented and experienced players like Goran Dragić, Jae Crowder, and Andre Iguodala and you have a recipe for a true championship-contending team. This isn’t a fluke, this isn’t a miracle, and the Miami Heat are far from a Cinderella Story. They may not have a LeBron James or an Anthony Davis, but what they do have is a collection of talented players who are All-In. Not just on an idea, but each other. If the Los Angeles Lakers sleep on this team, even for a second, it’ll cost them the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The NBA Finals kick off tonight when the Lakers take on the Heat in Game 1 at 9 PM Eastern on ABC.
(By the way, Heat/Lakers was my finals prediction at the start of the bubble. For more 4D chess move predictions like that, Follow Me on Twitter: @TrentOsborneFS.)