Can Miami Heat win this year’s NBA Championship?
We look at how they’ve fared so far this season
For the first time since their 2014 NBA Finals win over San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in this season’s NBA.
After the regular season was cut short, Erik Spoelstra’s Heat topped the Southeast Conference with a record of 44-29.
That record meant they finished fifth in the Eastern Conference, comfortably making the playoffs for the third time in six seasons since the high-profile departure of LeBron James. Now they’re 7/2 to go all the way.
The Heat missed out on the playoffs last year during Dwayne Wade’s farewell season, and with such a dramatic improvement just a year later, we look at what’s changed in Miami and whether they could be on their way to winning a fourth NBA Championship.
Pat Riley rebuild
The 2018/19 season proved to be a below-par campaign for the Heat, and one which was the last straw for General Manager Pat Riley.
Their record of 39-43 was one of only three losing records in their last 17 competitive seasons. The previous two came while they were missing key players, losing Chris Bosh to blood clots in the 2014/15 season, while missing Wade to injury through the 2007/08 campaign.
Riley opted to trade, cut or not re-sign nine of their 14-man roster from the previous season, kickstarting a major one-year rebuilding project.
Wade retired, while Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside were the biggest departures to pave the way for a new era of Miami basketball.
Richardson and Whiteside formed part of a trade for NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler from Philadelphia 76ers, a deal which also saw Myers Leonard head to South Beach from Portland Trail Blazers.
The Heat also opted to trade future draft picks in order to obtain a higher selection in the 2019 NBA Draft. They already had the 13th pick of the first round but traded for the 32nd and 44th picks too.
With those picks, they selected Tyler Herro, a highly-rated shooting guard out of Kentucky, KZ Okpala, a power forward from Stanford and Bol Bol, a 7ft 2in center from Oregon.
They also added three-time NBA champion Andre Iguodala and the powerful Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill in a three-team trade with Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies, giving Riley a team he felt had the perfect balance to compete.
Complete playoff performances
After securing fifth in the Eastern Conference, Heat entered the first round of the playoffs with a best-of-seven series against Indiana Pacers.
During the restart to the season, Heat and Pacers played twice, resulting in a win apiece at the ESPN World of Sport in Orlando, Florida.
But during the first-round matchup, it was a totally different story. Butler and his Heat side strolled to a 4-0 series win with ease in just six days, with the closest margin of victory nine points during games two and three.
That set up a mouth-watering clash with the East’s number one seeds, Milwaukee Bucks, headed by the reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Heat had the better of the Bucks during the regular season, with two wins before the league’s hiatus, before the Bucks came out on top in a 130-116 defeat in August.
Butler and co. came into their semi-finals with the Bucks with a newfound confidence, and they dominated throughout, including a 40-point haul for Butler in the series opener.
The Bucks failed to provide a real threat throughout the series, with the Heat locking down on Giannis to minimise his threat.
Only an overtime win in game four started raising questions, but an injury to the Bucks star man in that game dampened their challenge before Heat sealed the series in an impressive game five win.
Who’s left in their way?
With the other Eastern Conference semifinals going to a game seven, the Heat will find out whether they’ll take on Boston Celtics or 2019 champions Toronto Raptors for a place in the NBA Final.
Miami have the edge on Toronto in their regular season trilogy, with a 2-1 advantage over the defending champions. They’ve faltered against Boston, with only a win since the restart making their record against the Celtics more bearable this season.
They’ll face a tricky time getting to the Final whoever comes next, but as season experiences goes, they may strangely fancy their chances more against the title holders.
Should they make it to the Finals, that’s where hard work will come into play even more, with Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets all still in contention.
The Heat have losing records against both LA sides this year, and factoring out pre-season games, are tied with the Nuggets and Rockets this campaign.
But the way the Heat have formed a complete team, and gelled within their first season together, they’ll fancy their chances against anyone with the dream of an NBA title creeping ever closer.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication.