Reasons Why the Miami Heat Won't Return to the NBA Finals This Season

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Reasons Why the Miami Heat Won't Return to the NBA Finals This Season
Jimmy Butler #22 and Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat. Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images/AFP

The Miami Heat are a modest 18-18 on the season but, somewhat surprisingly, their .500 record is good enough for first place in the Southeast Division. Meanwhile, in the broader spectrum of the conference, the Heat are sat in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings, six games back of conference leaders, Philadelphia 76ers (24-12).

If the season were to end today, the Heat would in fact make the cut for postseason action. And this seemingly promising position transcends the betting as online bookmakers have rolled out competitive odds for Miami.

As per BetOnline Sportsbook (visit our BetOnline Review), the Heat are tipped at +1200 to win the conference and at +3300 to win the NBA Championship. Bovada Sportsbook (visit our Bovada Review), by contrast, offers the Heat on +1200 to win the conference and at +4500 to win the NBA Championship.

And yet, it’s only the halfway point of the 2020-21 NBA season. There’s a long way to go between now and the last game of the regular season in mid-May and a lot can change before then.

Rankings aside, the Southeast represents one of the weakest sections in the league, totally up for grabs with all five teams in the mix, despite struggling on form and consistency. Miami is clearly currently capitalizing on the situation, but whether they continue to do so remains to be seen.

Several noteworthy pundits have gone so far as to call into question Miami’s merit to make the playoffs, resting their case on the basis of their first 36 games. The most dissenting of critics is former Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce who recently claimed that the Heat won’t make the playoff frame when all is said and done. His argument rests on the team’s lack of grit and toughness, two key factors that led the Heat to the NBA Finals last year in his esteemed opinion.

Miami’s magical run into the ultimate round of the NBA playoffs in the Orlando bubble last season was a stunning feat that defied the NBA odds, even though the Heat were seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference. Few had held out much hope for Miami at the start of the revamped playoffs, delayed significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ask anyone at the time about their predictions and – dare, it be said – hardly anyone would have predicted Miami would sweep the Indiana Pacers in the first round, eviscerate the highly-fancied, No.1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the following series, and pull off the six-game victory over the Boston Celtics in the conference finals. Even taking the Lakers to six games was a feat in itself in the NBA Finals.

“The product of the bubble’s strangeness”, is how ESPN’s Zach Lowe described Miami’s run through the playoffs. As if to suggest it wasn’t somehow earned at all.

At some point one has to give credit where it is due though surely. The plucky underdogs rose to the occasion and proved to be worthy contenders, if not the best contenders in the Eastern Conference. That sort of gutsy effort is most appealing in sports betting in general and it inspires fans to root for the underdog.

Erik Spoelstra’s squad have their work cut out for them if they hope to make the playoffs this season and repeat as finalists. And don’t they know it better than anyone else.

“We haven’t been playing good basketball,” Jimmy Butler conceded matter-of-factly last month. “If you don’t play good basketball, you lose.”

Statistically, the Miami Heat leave much to be desired. They’re 26th overall in scoring with 106.8 points per game on average and fifth worst in points conceded at 108.4 points per game on average. They’re also 15th overall in 3-point shoots made at 12.8 and bottom of the league in field goals made at 38.3.

Behind these stats though is the fact that the Heat have had to deal with a rash of injury setbacks and COVID-19-related absences. Indeed, Miami has only played two games this season with its full roster intact.

Jimmy Butler, who was arguably the force behind Miami’s push to the finals, has missed a significant number of games mostly due to COVID-19 protocols. As well, Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic, Avery Bradley, amongst several others, have all been absent from the line-up at various points in the season due to injury or contact-tracing.

“Nothing’s ever really as bad as it seems,” said a philosophical Butler about Miami’s struggles, “or as good as it seems, at the same time.”

Injuries and COVID-19 protocols, and the strain those put on a team’s roster, is taxing. Never mind the expedited pace of the 2020-21 NBA season, which is unrelenting and adds to the pressure of expectation. Then there’s the fact that teams know better what to expect from the Heat’s game and style, adapting better to what they bring to court.

All of this and more played a part in Miami’s early setback, which prompted sceptics to come out in droves with premature opinions and projections of doom and gloom.

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Things have settled in recent weeks in Miami’s favor. They’ve won seven of their last eight games, a run of form that includes six wins on the trot. Importantly, during this spate of positive form, the Heat beat the Lakers 96-94, an upset win that defied the odds across numerous top betting sites in the process.

Most recently, the Heat are coming off a 103-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans before the All-Star Break, capping the first half of the season on an 18-18 mark and taking over top spot in the division. Overall, they’re 16-19-1 against NBA spreads on the season with a -1.6 losing margin on average.

Spoelstra weighed in on his side’s recent ascent. “Our offense has been trending—since Jimmy’s been back, it’s been trending the right way. You see a lot more familiar possessions where there’s ball movement, more guys involved, our driving, attacking game is much more consistent. Guys feel a little bit more comfortable in what’s expected of them.”

The Heat are finding form and energy and that’s an auspicious sign that underscores their value for early NBA picks. Granted they’ve yet to reach the level of intensity, grit and toughness that they showed in the bubble, but if they continue on this current trajectory, they’ll be in good stead to clinch a playoff berth. Once inside the 16-team NBA playoff frame (assuming they accomplish the feat), it’s anybody’s game really.

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