• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Year after NBA Finals trip, Miami Heat's season comes to an early end: 'We can be better'

·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

This is not now how the Miami Heat planned to end their 2020-21 season.

Coming off an Eastern Conference championship and spot in last year’s NBA Finals, the Heat had more in mind this year than getting swept in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks who lost to the Heat in the second round in 2020.

Both teams are different this time around, the Bucks better suited with personnel and style to handle the Heat who never really rediscovered the mojo that propelled them to the Finals.

On Saturday, Milwaukee defeated Miami 120-103 in Game 4, eliminating the Heat. The Bucks will play the winner of the Brooklyn-Boston series, and Miami will evaluate its season.

“They were a great team last season, and they improved on that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They took their game collectively to another level. They beat us for a reason. They were much better (than us) during the regular and in these four games.”

Jimmy Butler averaged 21.5 points in the 2020-21 season.
Jimmy Butler averaged 21.5 points in the 2020-21 season.

Evaluations in a COVID season are difficult, and the Heat front office will have to sift through the fallout, separating what was basketball related and what was COVID related. That process is a chore not only for the Heat but for several teams.

The Heat played deeper into last season than any other team outside of the Lakers. After an exhausting run in the bubble, they had a quick turnaround to this season. While Spoelstra didn’t want to discredit what the Bucks did, he said, “There is a human side to this.”

This wasn’t a normal season: the compact schedule, the restrictive health and safety protocols, including daily testing and limited activity outside of the team environment.

“It was one of the more memorable seasons because it was so uniquely different than anything else we’ve experienced,” Spoelstra said. “Guys had to really adjust and adapt. I really commend our guys for doing that not becoming cynical and making excuses for all the different protocols and things outside of the competition.”

Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Erik Spoelstra during Game 4.
Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Erik Spoelstra during Game 4.

So it will require a fine-tune approach to determine what changes are necessary.

The Heat were hampered by injuries and health and safety protocols related to the pandemic. Jimmy Butler missed 20 games, Goran Dragic 22, Tyler Herro 18 and Kendrick Nunn 16.

Of the playoff teams who didn’t participate in the play-in game format, the Heat had more players miss games other than Brooklyn and Atlanta, according to mangameslost.com.

Miami started 7-14 and had to make up ground most of the season, finishing 33-18 just to grab the sixth seed.

Butler had the kind of season offensively and defensively at 21.5 points, 7.1 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game while shooting a career-high 49.7% from the field that made him an All-NBA candidate. Adebayo improved as a scorer and playmaker, Duncan Robinson shot 40.8% on 3s and Dragic did Dragic things when in the lineup.

Herro had an uneven season, sometimes shooting well from 3-point range and sometimes struggling. The Heat acquired Victor Oladipo at the trade deadline, but a quadriceps injury that required surgery shortened his season after just four games with Miami. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

In that trade deadline deal, the Heat sent Kelly Olynyk to Houston, and earlier in March, the Heat parted ways with Meyers Leonard after he made an anti-Semitic slur while playing a video game on Twitch. The Heat lacked interior depth, and it showed in rebounding where the Heat finished 29th in rebounds per game

The Heat were never able to piece together the season the same way they did in the Orlando bubble.

“We can be better,” Butler said. “We’ll get better.”

Miami has the front-office brain trust in Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg, Adam Simon and Shane Battier.

“I really liked this group,” Spoelstra said. “I liked the locker room. I loved the mix of our veterans and our youth. It was a unique blend.”

Expect changes but not overreactions.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Miami Heat's NBA playoffs loss brings rocky season to an early end