The Miami Heat’s surprising run to the 2023 NBA Finals reportedly is getting other teams around the league to try to figure out if it was just a fluke or if the path from a subpar regular season to playoff success can be duplicated.
“As rival teams watched the Miami Heat climb out of the play-in muck and into the NBA Finals, many discussed the same question internally: What — if anything — can we learn from this?” wrote Zach Lowe of ESPN.
“For some executives, the answer was very little. The Heat’s run, the thinking went, was some combination of a fluke and a reversion to normal for a team that had gone cold from 3-point range all season. Would they have survived even one round had Giannis Antetokounmpo not injured his back in the first game of Miami’s first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks?”
Miami finished the regular season 44-38 and entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed following the play-in round. The Heat defeated the top-seeded Bucks in five games, helped in part by Antetokounmpo’s injury but fueled by some incredible play from Jimmy Butler, who averaged 37.6 points per game in the series.
The Heat then knocked out the New York Knicks in six games and defeated the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games. Miami had to win Game 7 in Boston to avoid becoming the first NBA team to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games.
The improbable playoff run ended with a five-game loss to the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals, which included two double-digit losses at home.
Miami shot 34.4 percent from 3-point range during the regular season, 27th in the NBA. The Heat led the playoffs by making 38.0 percent of their 3-point attempts.
“The Heat rode a heater to the Finals,” wrote Lowe. “Skeptics wondered: What can we learn from that? How is ‘make way more 3s than expected’ a replicable strategy?
“Others arrived at the same conclusion from almost the opposite starting point. They cited tracking data suggesting the Heat in the regular season had generated almost the same shot quality as in 2021-22 — when they hit a league-best 38% on 3s and finished with the top record in the East. Their luck was bound to turn — and did, in a flood of 3s when the games mattered most. Again: Could rivals inject that into their own team-building strategy?
“But for some teams, that was the point — and the worry: What if the Heat’s run was proof that in the era of load management, 3-point shot variance, and the play-in tournament, the regular season now mattered much less? What would it mean if the play-in, the new collective bargaining agreement, and other factors were ushering in an era of unprecedented parity to a sport that had been defined by predictability and the inevitability of dynasties?”
The Heat also thrived by getting markedly improved performances from supporting players in the playoffs as compared to the regular season.
Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent were perhaps the two most noteworthy contributors in that regard, tying for third on the team in playoff points per game behind Butler and Bam Adebayo. During the regular season, Martin was seventh, and Vincent was eighth.
The help was necessary after Tyler Herro was injured in the playoff opener against the Bucks and was out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Though that formula proved successful, the Heat are doing some self-analysis of their own. Miami this offseason has been looking to add another star to complement Butler and Adebayo, with Bradley Beal a target before he was traded to the Phoenix Suns by the Washington Wizards. Damian Lillard also may be still in the mix if the Portland Trail Blazers make him available.
With Vincent and Max Strus about to enter free agency, the Heat have many moves to make as they try to find a formula to prove the doubters wrong again next season.