NBA playoffs

Hop aboard the Heatwagon

Naveen Ganglani
Hop aboard the Heatwagon

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 08: Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat talks with his team during the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 08, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images/AFP

How many people actually thought the Miami Heat would make it this far?

Kendrick Perkins called them the “goons” down in Miami.

Why? Not for a reason sacrilegious, but instead because of how these modern-age bad boys play ball. 

Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk – none of those guys were even drafted in the top 10. 

And yet, this group of stubborn, headstrong, and fearless present-day Heatles, magnetized by a coach whose mastermind should be considered the best in the NBA, is on its way to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2014.

Just think about that for a second.

How many people actually thought the Miami Heat would make it this far?

Let me give you an idea: Back in June, “worldwide-leader-in-sports” ESPN forecasted Miami with a 2.9% chance to make the conference finals.

Above them were the Philadelphia 76ers (23.5%), who were swept; the Toronto Raptors (32.4%), whose postseason could soon be at an end; the Boston Celtics (41.2%), who’s likely next to face Miami; and the Milwaukee Bucks (100%!), who should have been given the broom in Game 4. 

So, do you believe now?

If yes, welcome to the Heatwagon. 

If not, then that’s perfectly fine.

A team on the rise

All-season long, Miami bid its time as a team on the rise powered by its underdog mentality and personified by a controversial leader, an underrated head coach, veterans with chips on their shoulders, and a collection of young bad-asses. 

Tyler Herro – an afterthought in the NBA Draft – has become the first kid (do we still call him that?) born in the 2000s to advance to the conference finals. He’s only 20-years-old, still with room for growth, and was pretty much the best player on the court as Miami closed out Milwaukee in Game 5. 

The trade deadline acquisition of Andre Iguodala and Crowder was a stroke of genius from a man rightfully nicknamed “The Godfather,” Pat Riley, which should come as no surprise seeing as no other executive in the NBA can boast of a better winning resume in all levels of basketball, or a better slicked back hairstyle. 

How about Dragic? He was acquired by the Heat back in 2015, the answer to a post-LeBron life, only to watch that team’s aspirations go down the drain with Chris Bosh’s life-threatening health issues and Dwyane Wade’s contentious departure. 

For all those years dealing with Hassan Whiteside, he deserves this moment the most.

Duncan Robinson? This guy was playing Division III basketball, went undrafted, and nearly gave up on his NBA dream. What other teams saw as “not good enough,” Miami viewed as something possible to work with, and with help from the Heat’s league-best development team, the man Stephen A. Smith now calls “A SPECIALIST” is the best shooter left in the bubble. 

Adebayo has grown into a do-it-all All-Star who will one day be close to what Giannis Antetokounmpo is today, if not better. Did you see those smooth jumpers fall through the net like teardrops?

And how about Jimmy G. Buckets, huh? It takes a lot of bravado to give yourself that nickname and state that the “G” means “gets,” and it sure takes a lot of guts to look at the back-to-back MVP’s teammates and scream, “he can’t guard me.”

Giannis couldn’t.

Butler was homeless when he was a teenager, barely recruited out of high school, and had little-to-no expectations as a 30th pick-NBA youngling.  

Now, he’s one of the top stars in the NBA, and in the running for playoff closers you’d want to have the ball as the pressure mounts to its highest. His reputation as a bad teammate? Well, with each passing game, Chicago, Minnesota, and Philly look like the actual losers from the divorces.

All he needed was the setting – or should I say “culture?” – to nurture his maniac-like level of competitiveness. Down in South Beach, he found the perfect “goons” to pair that up with. After all, it’s fun when you find someone whose crazy matches yours. 

Will Miami go all the way? 

It’s still tough to say. 

Can they?

Now that’s a yes.

Everything from here on out is gravy, because when Game 1 against either the Celtics or Raptors tips off, it will already exceed prior expectations for this team. 

But don’t tell them that.

“I don’t think we’ve played a full 48-minute game yet,” Butler said after Game 5 on Wednesday, September 9. 

“And that what’s promising. When we do lock in and decide to play from start to finish, I think the game would be a lot easier. I don’t think it’s happened yet, but we have to next round.”

The next round will be tough. A finals date against either of the LA teams will be tougher. In both occasions, they will be considered underdogs.

Then again, that just might be the perfect recipe.

After the Heat went up 3-0 on the Bucks, a message arrived from UP Fighting Maroons star Javi Gomez de Liaño, who knows a thing or two about defying expectations.

He was always enamored with Butler’s game and was fascinated by the basketball principles of Fil-Am coach Spo.

As someone who works with a chip on his shoulder, he’s come to appreciate what this Miami Heat squad is all about.

“I’mma join the bandwagon,” he said, excited. 

Now, is it your turn?

Will you hop aboard the Heatwagon?

– Rappler.com

Naveen Ganglani is a podcast host and writer for Rappler. He is the author of ‘Nowhere To Go But UP: How A Basketball Team Inspired A Nation’. He loves sports, video games, film, television, and pizza. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram. You can reach him at navsganglani@gmail.com.