The Heat, whose resurgence as the East’s No. 8 seed has seemingly surprised everyone but them as they battle it out with the Denver Nuggets in the N.B.A. finals. The Nuggets secured their first trip to the championship round by completing a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. After upsetting the Celtics in seven games, the Heat are just the second eighth seed, after the 1998-99 Knicks, to reach the N.B.A. finals under the current playoff format.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he sensed that the Heat were capable of improving if they continued to focus on their daily work. "There was nothing especially sexy about it — meeting after frustrating losses, watching film, practicing hard." This is an important lesson to learn from the Heat year after year. The team has a formula for success that has permeated its culture. For example, the Heat are the best team in NBA history at utilizing undrafted free agents, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Despite the presence of absolute superstar in Jimmy Butler, much of their power and effectiveness comes from a defined standard in talent evaluation and acquisition. This allows them to pluck a sixth man out of the Big Ten, for example, or, in the context of this year’s playoffs, get superstar-caliber production and minutes out of Caleb Martin, a 27-year-old who came from the Sioux Falls Skyforce (the Heat’s developmental league team).
Martin, a small forward who moved into the starting lineup for Games 6 and 7, was the Heat’s most consistent player throughout the series. He had 26 points in Game 7 and made of 11 of his 16 shots, including four 3-pointers. he even had fans suggesting that he was the real MVP of the Heat-Celtics series.
Gabe Vincent, the team’s starting point guard, played the final two games with a sprained ankle. And Duncan Robinson came off the bench to make timely 3-pointers.
The Heat are also one of the most revered teams when it comes to developing players at an individual level and fostering growth, and game-planning for those players’ unique strengths while strategically hiding their weaknesses.
There is something special about Jimmy Butler, and his supporting cast has playoff-caliber performers. Bam Adebayo is sensational on defense. Caleb Martin is an unexpected two-way breakout star.
And the Heat are coached by Erik Spoelstra, who’s put on a master class this postseason with differing, evolving game plans within every series.
Regardless of how strong the Nuggests are, recent history has tought us that the Heat are not to be underestimated. The Nuggets are as tough, but the series will determine the team that has reached its peak at the right time of the season, the NBA Finals
One thing is for certain, Bam Adebayo will need to have a big series for the Heat. He’ll need to be much better than he was closing out the Celtics. He'll have to be smart, agressive and looking for the back door when handling the ball. But he’ll also need to defend Jokic a lot, sustain energy, and stay out of foul trouble. It’s a lot to ask for a player on a team no one expected to still be playing.
Another star that continues to shine for the Heat is Gabe Vincent, as mentioned earlier. Vincent’s play has been another lethal weapon for the Heat and it also couldn’t have come at a better time. His dazzling drives to the basket, pull-up jumpers and deep three-balls have kept defenses on their heels. He's quick and fearless with a game that fits into the Heat culture perfectly. There have been streaks of which Vincent has taken over playoff games with nbig bucket after big bucket.
The Heat, which continue a quest to become the first No. 8 seed in NBA history to win a championship have been, perpetually, one of the best franchises in the league, missing the playoffs just six times since 2000.
But it has been their reinvention since the teardown of the LeBron James–Dwyane Wade–Chris Bosh superteam that is especially relevant for poorly performing NFL franchises at a time when true superstar talent is harder to come by (more on that in a second). This finals run in particular, as surprising as it’s been, has highlighted the true foundations of their organization.