The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22. To get you ready for the year to come, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Today, we take a look at defending Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat.
2019-20 season record
44-29, 5th in Eastern Conference
Avery Bradley, Free agency
Maurice Harkless, Free agency
Precious Achiuwa, No. 20 pick in 2020 NBA Draft
Jae Crowder, Free agency (Phoenix Suns)
Solomon Hill, Free agency (Atlanta Hawks)
Derrick Jones Jr., Free agency (Portland Trail Blazers)
|PG||Goran Dragic||Kendrick Nunn|
|SG||Duncan Robinson||Tyler Herro||Avery Bradley|
|SF||Jimmy Butler||Andre Iguodala||Maurice Harkless|
|PF||Meyers Leonard||Precious Achiuwa||Chris Silva|
|C||Bam Adebayo||Kelly Olynyk||Udonis Haslem|
3 key storylines
Defending the East
Calling Miami's run to the 2020 NBA Finals "miraculous" would be a disservice to a team that, in retrospect, was built to go on such a sustainable run.
The Heat moved through the Eastern Conference without much resistance, sweeping the Indiana Pacers before dominating the Milwaukee Bucks in a five-game series. It was the third-seed Boston Celtics that gave the Heat the most trouble and even they got eliminated in six.
While Miami made underrated improvements to its roster this offseason in adding Achiuwa, Bradley and Harkless, its competitors made some big splashes. With Milwaukee acquiring Jrue Holiday, Boston adding Tristan Thompson and the Philadelphia 76ers undergoing something of an overhaul that included a coaching change, the East looks much different than it did last year.
Even teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards have made improvements. As Miami's divisional foes, the aforementioned three will make things much more difficult than they have in years past.
For the first time in several years, the Heat are the team with a target on its back, a privilege that comes with the territory after making the NBA Finals.
Jimmy Butler's encore
After earning All-NBA Third Team honours in the regular season with averages of 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, Butler took his game up a few notches in the postseason.
Not only was Butler everywhere on the defensive end but he also was willing to bear as big of an offensive load as the team needed him to. In response to the injuries that limited Dragic and Adebayo in the Finals, Butler put forth two historically impactful performances, leading Miami to its two Finals wins with a 40-point triple-double in Game 2 and a 35-point triple-double in Game 5.
Who could forget this photo that encapsulates just how much Butler left on the floor?
Coach Spoelstra said "that's an image of a champion, before you're a champion"- Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 10, 2020
Frame this, @JimmyButler pic.twitter.com/TkksC6hGQX
Fans gained a newfound perspective on Butler, who seemingly dug deeper to do all his team needed of him until there was no more left in the tank. Now, with Miami making improvements to its roster and returning back to full strength, there is far less pressure - or necessity - for the five-time All-Star to put forth these types of performances.
The Finals version of Butler looked very much capable of cracking a list of the league's top-five players. As the regular season rolls around, will he still remain in that tier? Is a fourth All-NBA selection in store?
Leaps from Herro and Adebayo
Based on what we saw in the postseason, it's no secret that 20-year-old Tyler Herro and 23-year-old Bam Adebayo are the future cornerstones of the franchise.
Herro, who showed flashes during the regular season despite dealing with injuries, had his coming out party in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals when he finished with 37 points (on 14-for-21 shooting) to help propel Miami to a crucial three-point win. At 20, he finished his first-ever postseason with averages of 16.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists on .433/.375/.870 shooting splits.
After showing poise and confidence beyond his years, things should only get easier for Herro, who at times, has lived up to lofty comparisons to Devin Booker. With a year of experience under his belt, Herro has plenty of room to grow and improve, and he should do just that in Year 2.
While Herro is looking to emerge into star territory as a sophomore, Adebayo has an opportunity to cross into the realm of superstardom as he enters his fourth year.
Bam earned the first All-Star selection of his career in 2020 and as the season progressed, he continued to get better and better, posting averages of 17.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the postseason. Had Adebayo not been slowed down by injuries in the NBA Finals, who knows how the series would have turned out?
For his performance as Miami's anchor, Adebayo earned All-Defensive Second Team honours and this offseason, the Kentucky product was rewarded with a five-year maximum contract extension, solidifying his spot as the franchise player through at least the 2025-26 season.
What's scary is that there is plenty of room for Adebayo to continue to grow, specifically on the offensive end, where he can continue to add as a scorer. At just 23, it's reasonable to believe that the big man is destined to make yet another big leap this upcoming season.
5 games to watch
Dec. 25 vs. New Orleans Pelicans
The Heat and Pelicans are the first of five games on one of the biggest days on the NBA calendar. This Christmas Day matchup won't be one you want to miss.
Dec. 29 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Heat meet the Bucks for the first time since dismantling them in five games in last season's East Semis. Milwaukee has re-tooled in adding Holiday among others and looks to avenge its postseason loss to Miami, a team with the tools to make things difficult for MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and crew.
Jan. 6 vs. Boston Celtics
You gotta love an Eastern Conference Finals rematch. The Celtics, who hope to get All-Star guard Kemba Walker (knee) into the lineup in early January, have re-tooled through the draft and free agency and are another team with hopes of dethroning the defending East champs.
Jan. 20 vs. Toronto Raptors
For at least the first half of the season, the Raptors will be located in Tampa, FL - just four hours away from the Heat. With respect to culture and sustained excellence, there are a number of parallels between the two franchises. Add a regional dynamic and the rivalry between the two is turned up a notch.
Feb. 20 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Two months into the season, we're set to get the first of two NBA Finals rematches between Los Angeles and Miami. Four months will have passed since their most recent meeting but you can be sure that the Heat will be looking to make a statement in this one.
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