Hot Takes We Might Actually Believe: Miami Heat were a bubble anomaly
The 2020-21 NBA season is around the corner, but Hot Take SZN is here, and at the end of another busy off-season, we'll see how close we can fly to the sun and still endure the heat of these lookouts.
(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)
The Miami Heat were your average regular season playoff team in every way before catching fire for two playoff rounds and falling out of six games in the NBA finals when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.
There are plenty of arguments for whether Miami could be a better regular season team this season, but recreating the playoff magic against Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics would mean facing the odds again. Whether it was a heat culture of conditioning that uniquely prepared her to endure the Orlando Bubble, a series of ridiculously hot shots, or a bit of injury luck before the final - or a combination of the three - Miami's run through the Eastern Conference was an anomaly that is unlikely to be duplicated.
Few teams benefited more from the season break than the heat. The break gave Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro time to rest on their respective toe and ankle injuries, which threatened to cost both players more games. Goran Dragic, their 34-year-old point guard, was given four months of rest which certainly played a role in resurrecting his all-star form. An additional training camp allowed them to incorporate the acquisitions of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala trading deadlines into their role as rotating playoff contributors.
It is the addition of Crowder and Iguodala that underpinned a wing rotation that relied on playoff newbies Kendrick Nunn and Derrick Jones Jr. based points per 100 regular season possessions on a point that added that lead during playoffs through the east almost doubled.
That's true, mostly because Crowder went from being a sub-par 3-point shooter for his career to an elite in the five-game conference semi-final win against the Bucks in Miami. He converted 43.1% of his 10.2 attempts per game, which is an average Stephen Curry season.
Jimmy Butler brought his game to superstar level in the 2020 playoffs. (Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images)
Conventional wisdom portrayed Iguodala for a prominent playoff role, but Crowder often got the crunch-time nod and went freehand to the Phoenix Suns with Jones Jr. Their squad positions were filled by Avery Bradley and Moe Harkless. Bradley is an under-sized former all-defensive security guard who should keep strengthening the backcourt, provided he can avoid the injury problems that have plagued him throughout his career.
Harkless and Iguodala, who is soon to be 37, will fill Crowder's role, switching between forward positions in large and small lineups. They are less effective ground spacers than crowders in terms of both shot accuracy and volume, so their appearance as series-wielding flamethrowers would be even less likely.
On the other hand, Iguodala's biggest playoff moment for Miami - an unlikely 5v5 shot that helped swing the crucial Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final - was an indication of how luck in the playoffs triggers the heat lost. Granted, a knack for clutch performance is what led the Iguodala takeover, but he's been 4-20 from range in his 10 previous playoff games before going 4-4 in Game 6 against Boston.
Against the Bucks and Celtics, the heat was plus-45 in 37 clutch playoff minutes on 53/41/89 and ended 8-2. Nine of their eleven competitions in these two series were one-ball games in the last five minutes, and they have won seven of them. Some of this can be attributed to superior stamina, but for a team that finished the regular season 25th in clutch performance (40 points on 8/28/72 in 153 clutch minutes and 18-18 records in tight games) it's safe too to ascribe some luck to it.
For the record, Heat veteran Udonis Haslem disagreed with that sentiment, saying, "Don't worry, these dogs stay hungry," and there is certainly something to be said for Miami's hunger that brings some luck.
But they were no different from those of another low-seed team that ran across the east in a shortened season. The 1999 New York Knicks were a medium-sized team that caught a clutch lightning bolt in a bottle for three playoff rounds. The following year they were a better team in the regular season, but their luck ran out in the 2000 Conference Final.
It helped Miami this year that Milwaukee's momentum was halted in what might be an historic regular season. Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was plagued by ankle injuries in games 3 and 4 and missed all games 5 of their series. Seasoned Celtics stars Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker were also injured in the conference finale. Had it not been for Dragic and Bam Adebayo's injuries in Game 1 of the final, the abnormal heat would of course have seriously asked the Lakers for the Bubble Championship.
Dragic's resurgence was also one of the biggest contributors to Miami's turnaround. The 12-year-old veteran switched to the bench after knee surgery cost him half of his 2018-19 season. In his role as the sixth man, often against second units, Dragic scored an average of 16.1 points (44/38/77 shooting divisions), 5.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game. This production translated over 34.6 minutes a night in the playoffs. He had an average of 21-5-4 on 45/36/81 before suffering a plantar fascia tear, which may have been associated with his extra workload.
Can the heat expect him to carry a similar load into the 2021 playoffs at the age of 35? More likely, the heat will depend on the development of Herro and Adebayo to make up for a decline in Dragic - a development that should probably have happened in the six weeks between Game 6 of the final and the start of training camp. Can that also hide Crowder's departure and the happiness they enjoyed in the East?
This is not meant to detract from what they have achieved in the bladder. Notable were Adebayo's game saver in Game 1 of the conference finals, Herro's 37-point breakout three games later, and Butler's ability to play from head to toe in multiple finals with LeBron James. They are also difficult to replicate.
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Ben Rohrbach works for Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach
More Hot Takes We May Believe In:
Milwaukee Bucks will be worse
Brooklyn Nets will be a chemical disaster
James Harden will be a Philadelphia 76er this season
Jayson Tatum will be on MVP talk
Golden State Warriors will miss the playoffs
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