Zwiller: The Heat belong in the Finals
Thomas Zwiller | Monday, October 5, 2020
As the Miami Heat trail 0-2 to the Los Angeles Lakers, people are doubting if the Heat should have been here at all. This is an absolutely patently absurd antiquated take; the Heat without question belong in the NBA Finals, and here’s why I think so.
1. The bubble argument:
One argument that I’ve been seeing online is that the Heat run wouldn’t have happened had these playoffs not been in the bubble, that they benefited from not having to play on the road during these playoffs, which I don’t think is true.
Heat vs. Pacers
The first team the Heat played was the fourth-seeded Pacers, a good team this year albeit one that exceeded expectations. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Pacers (1505 Elo) entered this year with an 82% chance of making the playoffs and would most likely do so as the fifth seed with a record of 43-39 just over .500. The Heat (1518 Elo) also exceeded expectations; they were given a 74% chance of making the playoffs at the No. 7 seed, and a record of 41-41. That being said, by the time the playoffs rolled around, FiveThirtyEight had changed its forecast, and with good reason. The Heat went 3-1 against the Pacers (including going 1-1 on the road), winning by a combined 37 points in their victories. This regular season split says to me that the Heat could’ve easily won in the playoffs, both on the road and at home. Finally, they didn’t have a close game at all in the playoffs, as they swept the Pacers out of the playoffs by a combined 42 points.
Heat vs. Bucks
Then, the next team they faced were the Milwaukee Bucks, boasting MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo. FiveThirtyEight predicted the Bucks (1643 Elo) would go 55-27 with a 99% chance of making the playoffs as well as 16% chance of winning the Finals. Not a lot had changed once the playoffs arrived, the Bucks Elo had risen to 1739 and they had a 21% chance of winning the Finals. That being said, this wasn’t a slam dunk for the Bucks to win, and seven of 18 ESPN analysts had picked the Heat to win, and it was with good reason. The Heat won the regular-season series, going 2-1 winning by 21 points, and split the series 1-1 at the Bucks home court.
Not only did the Heat have a good series against them, but they had good personnel to go with it. Bam Adebayo is 6’9” and 255 lbs and a solid defensive player, comparable to Giannis, who is 6’11” and 242lbs. Bam was a key in shutting down Giannis; in the regular season, he held him to 42 points on 18-39 of shots in the two Miami wins. All this without mentioning Andre Iguodala, who has been an NBA All-Defensive Team member and a Finals MVP. The Heat were ready to shut down Giannis, and once they did so, that limited the Bucks offense and the Heat were able to gentleman’s-sweep them right out of the playoffs. I don’t even think that that was an unrealistic result, albeit outside of a bubble, maybe the series goes 4-2 but still Heat.
Heat vs. Celtics
The Celtics were the Conference Finals matchup for the Heat, and this series was a close one. Before the season, FiveThirtyEight gave the Celtics a 1568 Elo rating, a 46-36 record, and a 90% chance of making the playoffs at the fourth seed. I think Boston has the best argument for beating Miami outside of a neutral court: Boston won the regular-season series 2-1 by a total of 27 points. It was a tight series, with the offensive ratings being 114.4 Miami and 114.5 Boston, and the point differential being 112.3 Miami, and 112.5 Boston. It’s a tight score series based on points, but I think the main difference was the turnover rate, Boston had a turnover rate of 12.6, while Miami was only 10.1. These turnovers were the key difference in the series, largely thanks to Miami’s key use of a zone defense. Shooting was also pretty much a wash, with Miami’s Effective Field Goal Percentage being .526 and Boston at .535. While I think that Boston had the best chance of beating Miami, I think that outside the bubble the series goes 4-3 Miami.
2. The reseeding argument
On ESPN, most notably Mike Greenberg and Jalen Rose have been making the argument of reseeding the NBA Playoffs as well as getting rid of the conferences and simply seeding teams 1-16. It seems to make sense at first: the West is a lot better than the East, this would allow for the two best teams to truly get to the Finals, instead of meeting in the Conference Finals. The WNBA does reseeding and got rid of Conferences, in the hopes of finding the best champion. The reason ESPN personalities now believe that this is a compelling argument is that the Heat have now been blown out in two games. Had the NBA done this it would’ve looked like this:
Bucks vs. Magic, Raptors vs. Nets, Lakers vs. Trail Blazers, Clippers vs. Mavericks
Celtics vs. 76ers, Nuggets vs. Pacers, Rockets vs. Jazz, Heat vs. Thunder.
Assuming the Heat beat out the Thunder, which I think is fairly reasonable, the next stage of the bracket would be:
Bucks vs. Heat, Clippers vs. Celtics, Lakers vs. Rockets, and Nuggets vs. Raptors.
The Heat, we know, beat the Bucks, so that game would be a lock to me, as would the Lakers beating the Rockets. The other games might have been a bit dicier, but I’ll assume for the sake of this argument the teams that advanced in real life would also advance in this reseeded scenario, resulting in Celtics and Nuggets.
We know in real life who wins Celtics vs. Heat — it’s the Heat, resulting in them getting to the finals. Lakers-Nuggets were also played in real life, so the Lakers also make it back to the finals, and we get Heat at Lakers for Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
If the Heat belong here, why are they getting blown out by the Lakers?
The simple answer is injury. Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo were both injured in Game 1 and had to leave, with neither playing in Game 2. Jimmy Butler also sprained an ankle in Game 1, limiting his play somewhat in Games 1 and 2. These three players were the leading scorers for the Heat in the three series they won, and now they’re gone. Without Adebayo, the Heat simply don’t have the depth to guard Anthony Davis (who in my opinion should get the Finals MVP thus far) who will beat them with his height on key rebounds and posing a problem when shooting. If the Heat had their full cast, they’d be able to make this a series. Without them, Lakers in five.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.