Miami Heat: Are they pretenders or contenders heading into 2020-21?

Was the Miami Heat’s NBA Finals run a fluke?

With the buzz of a hectic 2020 offseason behind, and training camps opening on Dec. 1, the NBA world is geared up for the 2020-21 season. Still fresh on everybody’s minds, however, is the bizarre yet exciting bubble postseason, which saw the Los Angeles Lakers claim their 17th title with an NBA Finals victory over the underdog Miami Heat.

The latter’s run through the Eastern Conference playoffs has been the subject of much controversy, with many within the league deeming it “the product of the bubble’s strangeness,” according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.

Indeed, a clean sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the first round, a five-game demolition of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks the following series, and a six-game triumph over the Boston Celtics in the conference finals are not at all how most people expected the playoffs to go for Miami.

Is there merit to the insinuation that the Heat’s NBA Finals berth was given by the bubble, and not earned?

It’s undeniable that the bubble environment suited Miami with the way they’re assembled as an organization, from top to bottom, and also because they had struggled on the road before the season was suspended in March. But at what point do we stop crediting the bubble and start recognizing that the Heat was simply the best team in their conference?

The Bucks, boasters of the NBA’s best record and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, were outshined by the Heat in every aspect of basketball. The Celtics, widely considered the more talented team and a matchup nightmare for Miami, had no answer for them, especially down the stretch of games.

What we witnessed from Erik Spoelstra’s squad during the 2020 playoffs was beautiful, winning basketball. Anyone who denies that, or attributes it to anything other than the effort the players and staff put forth, is delusional. Spoelstra’s hall of fame coaching along with career performances from almost everyone on the roster made their first Eastern Conference championship since 2014 possible. And it was earned, not given.

With the new season looming, there is a league-wide belief that Miami will fail to uphold the success that got them so far in the bubble. Admittedly, the East did get tougher over the offseason. Milwaukee’s acquisition of Jrue Holiday makes them more dangerous. The Philadelphia 76ers have taken their mess of a roster and turned it into a group that supplements their stars to near perfection. The Brooklyn Nets will have the combined talents of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to lead them. And the up-and-coming Atlanta Hawks, Miami’s divisional rival, look poised to get back into the playoffs.

Despite not making any big splashes via trade or signing, the Heat weren’t left in the dust by the improvements of other teams. The arrival of Avery Bradley provides some much-needed defensive relief in the backcourt. Young studs Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro will only get better, while rookie Precious Achiuwa will look to make an immediate impact for a system that notoriously squeezes all the potential from its players.

And, as easy as it might be to forget, last season was only Jimmy Butler‘s first in Miami. Another campaign will only do wonders for team chemistry that is already phenomenal. The Heat have as good a chance as anyone to return to the Finals, and doubters around the league and opposing fanbases are in for a rude awakening.