How Hot is The Heat?


Gilbert McGregor , Kyle Irving , Carlan Gay

Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat, winner of this year’s Larry Bird Award, stands next to Jayson Tatum during the Eastern Conference Finals.

Chase Carty, Staff Writer

   Are you a gambler? Hypothetically, let’s say you are. Say you saw something in the eighth seeded Miami Heat that not many others had early last month. Due to this unprompted faith, you bet $100 on them beating the Milwaukee Bucks, the overwhelming favorites to win the NBA finals in five games. You could have potentially turned that $100 into $4,000.

   Three days later, before the first game of the Heat and Knicks series, you continue to believe in the Heat, and bet another Benjamin on them advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals (ECF) in a 4-2 victory. On May 12, you would have been awarded an additional $650. Due to their overwhelming dominance in the east, you’re fully engulfed in the Heat wave, so you think they’ll take the second seeded Celtics down in a hard-fought seven-game series. The following day, you’d be correct, as well as up to $400 richer. This scenario is obviously given in hindsight, little to no fans expected the Miami Heat to see this much success. They were the eighth seed after all, and it’s rare for a team who barely made the playoffs to display this much dominance, but how rare exactly?

   As of May 24 there have been 853 completed playoff series dating back to the 1949-50 season. However, the NBA didn’t implement the 16-team playoff system until the 1983-84 season, so the following statistics will be based off of those. 

   There have been 80 matchups between No. 1 seeds and No. 8 seeds in the first round of the playoffs, and of those 80, there have only been four instances of the underdogs advancing to the next round. The Nuggets were the first team to do so in 1994, the Knicks were next in 1999, then the “We Believe” Warriors in 2007, and most recently, the 2011 Grizzlies. This means that coming into this postseason, the Heat had about a 5.1% chance of beating the Bucks, which doesn’t seem too unlikely until you take what they did after, along with many other factors into account.

   Of those four previously mentioned anomalies, three of them were promptly bounced out of the second round, meaning that the Heat’s chances of advancing past the second round are now less than 1.3%. Moving forward, the chances of them beating the Celtics in the ECF were less than 0.4%, but here we are now. 

   However, these are just numbers, and although they don’t lie, they fail to provide context. As previously stated, the last occurrence of a No. 8 seed surviving the first round was 12 years ago, and the last time a No. 8 seed advanced all the way to the finals was before the current millennium. Teams have become not only more talented, but strategic as well. 

   We’ve entered the modern “superteam” era of the NBA, teams that had to scrap their way to the playoffs simply don’t see success in the playoffs anymore. They’re merely placeholders at this point. Superstars on contending teams don’t wear themselves out in the regular season anymore due to the new league-wide load management epidemic. In some instances, teams hardly play their starters against these eighth seeded teams in order to rest them for more challenging matchups to come. This is in comparison to ’80s and ’90s basketball, where players would naively suit up for as many regular-season games as their bodies would allow them, causing them to be fatigued and/or banged up, leading to more competitive first-round matchups.

   The Heat have defied great odds this postseason, and they’re seeking to overcome another set of them this June. That 1998-1999 Knicks squad who miraculously made it to the finals ended up losing to the Spurs, taking one game in the process. The Heat have the potential to do “the impossible” of winning a Larry O’Brien trophy as an eighth seed.