Four months is a long time. So we’re getting reacquainted with the title race by looking at the nine NBA teams with at least a 1 percent chance of winning the title according to our in-house playoff odds (a.k.a. Zach Kram), plus the 76ers, who defy all math and logic, leading up to reopening night on July 30.
Team: Miami Heat
Record: 41-24 (fourth in Eastern Conference)
Numbers: 112.2 offensive rating (seventh in NBA), 109.2 defensive rating (14th), 3.0 net rating (10th)
Seeding opponents (in order of schedule): Nuggets, Raptors, Celtics, Bucks, Suns, Pacers, Thunder, Pacers
Last Time, on the Heat …
Miami entered the season projected to finish with 43.5 wins—good for a tie for 14th in the league. Jimmy Butler’s arrival from Philadelphia and the continued development of younger players like Bam Adebayo seemed like a good reason to expect moderate growth over its 39-43 finish last season. But no one expected just how much the Heat would improve. Before the season was suspended, Miami sat just two wins shy of its season projection, comfortably in fourth in the Eastern Conference, with both Bam and Butler earning All-Star nods.
Even more surprising is how they’ve gotten here. Butler was a known quantity before this season; Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn weren’t. The trio is hitting 44.8, 39.1, and 36.2 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, respectively, each averaging at least five deep tries per game. That floor spacing creates lanes for Butler to slash to the hoop, and is only bolstered by backup point guard Goran Dragic, who himself shoots 37.7 percent from 3. No other team is as accurate from deep as Miami, and no other team can get hotter at a moment’s notice.
How They’ve Spent Their Quarantine
Any player good enough to make the NBA has poured years of their life into training. They’ve obsessed over dribbles and footwork and conditioning and the like. Becoming a star demands even more. And so maybe Butler can be forgiven for bothering his hallmates during the Heat’s first few days in the bubble.
Chris Haynes reported two weeks ago that a security guard at the Heat’s hotel had to be called to investigate a noise complaint. When the guard located the source of the noise, he was greeted by Jimmy Buckets, clothed in full practice regalia and drenched in sweat from what I can only assume was the most aggressive dribbling ever conducted. What do you expect from the man who decimated a practice on a whim?
Seeding-Games Goal: Try Not to Slide Down the Ladder
Before the season’s suspension in March, moving up to the 3-seed seemed plausible. The Heat won five of their last seven contests before the hiatus, including home victories over the Mavericks and Bucks, and their remaining schedule was the 14th-most difficult in the league; not a cakewalk, but nothing too daunting. Their new slate of games? Well, they’re a little more challenging.
Miami enters the bubble staring down the second-toughest schedule. Only one of the Heat’s final eight showdowns, against Phoenix, can be considered a likely win. Miami is 2.5 games back of Boston for the no. 3 seed, and holds a two-game advantage over Philadelphia and Indiana for no. 4. Miami’s play in the three games against the teams immediately ahead and behind it will determine its fate.
Biggest On-Court Bubble Question: Is Bam Ready to Take the Leap?
Calling Adebayo ascendant would be a disservice to the season he’s had thus far. The third-year big man started each of the 65 games he played, dropping 16.2 points, a team-high 10.5 boards, and 5.1 assists en route to his first All-Star selection. Bam’s versatility in the frontcourt allows Miami’s sharpshooters to fire with confidence, and gives head coach Erik Spoelstra the freedom to get creative defensively.
Adebayo’s position with the Heat is similar to Pascal Siakam’s last season with the Raptors. Jimmy Butler isn’t Kawhi Leonard, and Miami isn’t Toronto, but Adebayo’s growth will determine how high this team’s floor and ceiling are. Bam played so little in his first trip to the postseason as a rookie that this campaign can be considered his proper playoff debut. If Miami is going to challenge for anything more than a photo op with Mickey and Minnie, it’ll be because of Adebayo.
Player in the Spotlight: Andre Iguodala
Iggy isn’t the same defensive world-beater he was only a few years ago, when he served as the skeleton key to the Warriors’ death lineup. The 36-year-old former Finals MVP spent most of this season as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies in name only—he never set foot on the floor—before forcing a trade. The Heat forfeited Justise Winslow in the swap, but picked up another veteran in Jae Crowder. In return for youth, Miami received two wings with a glut of playoff experience.
That’s all fine and dandy in theory, but how will it work in practice? Iguodala averaged 4.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, two dimes, and a block over his 14 games with the Heat, and his 37.5 percent clip beyond the arc suggests he can still stroke it with the game on the line. But Iggy’s playing time has declined every season since 2008-09, and he saw the floor for more than 20 minutes only four times this year. At his best, Iguodala can be the difference between winning a series and losing one. The question now is whether he can still find that gear, or if this is the end of his road.
On a Scale From Wizards to 10, Where 10 Is the Best Shot at a Title, What Are the Heat’s Odds of Winning the 2020 Title?
Miami’s chances of winning it all are about the same as my chances of pulling off Pat Riley’s fit from The Last Dance. I’ll call it a 4/10.