Bubble Wrap: Will Miami's path to The Finals in 2021 be easier or harder?
Our scribes assess the Heat's chances of winning back-to-back East titles
From NBA.com Staff
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Will Miami’s path to The Finals in 2021 be easier or harder than in 2020?
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Steve Aschburner: Harder. Nothing seems to get easier about NBA competition, at least in a relative sense. I mean, it’s easier for a ball handler to get where he wants to go without hand-checking anymore. But as far as vying for the same goals, there is zero reason to think the Heat will cake-walk to the 2021 Finals. The top East teams that got ousted this time — the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets — will have made changes or be lugging greater urgency next time. Milwaukee might be out-of-its-mind desperate to win big to retain Giannis Antetokounmpo. Doc Rivers accepted a win-now pressure in Philadelphia. Brad Stevens’ days as a wunderkind coach are over — it’s payoff time. And so on. Fortunately for Miami, it will be better too. But nothing will come more easily.
Shaun Powell: It’ll be much harder for the Heat if only because of the potential monster that’s emerging in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving healthy. Also, unlike this time, Miami will need to win some tough road games. The Heat’s chances actually will look better for the 2021-22 season, assuming they take advantage of their ample cap space in that offseason to find an A-list talent to join their youthful core.
John Schuhmann: More difficult. Brooklyn is adding two of the most talented players in the league, Boston’s two young stars are only getting better and Philadelphia might be able to figure things out under Rivers. Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder are free agents, but Miami has the payroll flexibility to make tweaks, and its own young players (Bam Adebayo is 22! Tyler Herro is 20!) should continue to improve. The Heat will be right there among the contenders, but things might not break for them as well as they did these last two months.
Sekou Smith: Much harder. The surprise factor for the Heat evaporated with each and every dominant effort they delivered in their run to The Finals. There will be increased expectations across the board, from Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo on down the roster. The benefit of having a tight-knit group carrying its underdog role into an isolated environment won’t be on the Miami’s side in 2021 (or at least not that we know of). The “Heat culture” that fueled this run must be even stronger when we discover to what our new NBA normal is.
Michael C. Wright: It’s definitely going to be more difficult. We saw in the bubble that the Brooklyn Nets have a nice, young squad — and that was without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the mix. Brooklyn will be better, as will Philadelphia under Rivers, as he figures out ways to make the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons pairing work. Let’s also not forget about Toronto, Boston and Milwaukee. All three of those teams are legit title contenders. Obviously, Miami now has NBA Finals experience that will serve it well moving forward, but the East is quickly becoming a gauntlet, and I personally can’t wait to see what the offseason brings for some of these teams.