Why the Miami Heat should feel proud of their season even if they don’t win NBA title

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Will the Denver Nuggets inevitably win the NBA championship? The Miami Heat surely aren’t thinking that way.

Not when the Heat still have to play the Nuggets in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Not when they can reduce the Nuggets’ series lead to 3-2 and at least force a Game 6 in Miami on Thursday. Not when they technically have a chance to become only the second team in league history to win an NBA championship after facing a 3-1 deficit.

If they didn’t have that attitude, the eighth-seeded Heat wouldn’t have ever faced this situation. They wouldn’t have beaten the Eastern Conference’s top team in the first round (Milwaukee). They wouldn’t have survived a grind-it-out affair in the second round (New York). They wouldn’t have breezed through a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals before eventually prevailing in a Game 7 on the road (Boston).

So why would Miami stop now? As the Heat have painfully experienced thus far against the Nuggets, however, they cannot win simply by outworking their opponent. It was enough to steal a Game 2 road victory. Not enough to win an entire series, though.

That reality won’t sit well with Miami, which remains determined to prove everyone else wrong.  Objectively speaking, though, the Heat should still feel proud of what they accomplished. There’s a reason an eighth seed has never won an NBA title in league history.  

Obstacles the Miami Heat have overcome

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The Miami Heat were supposed to go fishing a while ago. They weren’t expected to beat another championship contender that had one of the league’s best duos (Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown). They weren’t expected to win a grind-it-out affair against a Knicks team that had an emerging star (Jaylen Brunson) and a handful of quality role players.

They weren’t expected to beat another title contender in the first round even if it missed its star player for half of the series with a back injury (Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo). Heck, they weren’t even expected to make the playoffs after laboring through injuries all season and losing in the first Play-In game against Atlanta.

So why should the Miami Heat expect they can somehow beat the Nuggets, which boasts the league’s best center (Nikola Jokic), a future All-Star point guard (Jamal Murray) and the deepest supporting cast (Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown)? Because the Heat have always worked their will. Against Denver, however, that hasn’t been enough.

Jimmy Butler has played respectable, but he hasn’t produced a “Playoff Jimmy”-type moment. Bam Adebayo can play at all five positions, but he cannot play all of those positions at the same time. Miami’s Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love have willingly taken reduced roles while showcasing their past championship experiences and smarts, but they are not in the prime of their careers. The Heat have developed all seven of their undrafted players well, but they haven’t been produced consistently.  

The Miami Heat take pride in maximizing their roster through sharp conditioning, player development and adjustments. Clearly, though, Miami has hit its peak. As much as it should feel accomplished for playing to their absolute best, the Heat will soon wrestle with a challenging reality. They compete for NBA titles, not moral victories. So don’t be surprised if Heat president Pat Riley becomes aggressive with reloading the roster this offseason.

Never rule out Riley’s persistence and creativity. Realistically, though, it seems implausible the Heat could add a third star. Regardless of Portland’s Damian Lillard listing Miami as a team he likes, he hasn’t requested a trade and Trail Blazers have stressed endlessly they won’t ever deal Lillard. As for other potential blockbuster deals, it appears unclear if Miami has enough complementary pieces to make that trade happen. Even if Miami somehow landed a third star to play alongside Butler and Adebayo, the Heat would risk diminishing their depth. As much as it might be foolish for the Miami Heat to run the same roster back that couldn’t beat the Nuggets, it would be short sighted to blow up the foundation that ensured their arrival here. Miami can worry about tackling those off-season questions later. Even if another loss awaits, the Heat deserve praise for setting the model to the rest of the league on how get the most out of their roster. For now, though, the Heat have another game to play. They still believe they can win an NBA championship. 

Mark Medina is an NBA Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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