Losses in the NBA Finals (or any championship game or series for that matter) provide a pain only a few would understand. Being so close yet in the end coming up short can leave some at a loss for words or as has been frequently said this postseason, make you just tip your hat off to your opponent.
The Miami Heat have made four finals appearances over the last 10 seasons, and all have unfortunately been empty trips. This most recent one, though, is arguably their most valiant effort.
After losing their first play-in game and being just minutes away from being eliminated, the Heat turned the tables on the Chicago Bulls and proceeded to go on a postseason run where they became giant-killers to the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, and the Boston Celtics. Miami were able to tie the 2023 NBA Finals at 1-1, but Finals MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets were just too much to overcome.
The emotions within the Heat organization are still raw and a loss of this magnitude may require some time to process. Processing a loss and finding a way forward can be treated as two different things, and Miami need only to look at their opponents to find a blueprint.
The roster philosophies of the Heat and the Nuggets may vary, but there are tangent points to their respective paths.
Both teams have talented big men (Jokic and Bam Adebayo) and pride themselves in scrappy defense and 3-point shooting. They also have among the longest tenured coaches in Erik Spoelstra and Mike Malone, both of whom are now championship coaches. The similarities, though, somewhat end there.
The injury bug had previously been hovering over Denver, as major injuries hounded Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. in previous years. On Miami’s end, the first domino to fall was Tyler Herro, who was made a spectator after he broke his right hand in Game 1 against the Bucks. Victor Oladipo would then tear his left patellar tendon in Game 3 of the same series, forcing him to undergo his third major surgery in the last four years.
For his part, Adebayo silenced his doubters with his performance in the 2023 NBA Finals, yet despite his best efforts, he can’t do it alone. Kevin Love was rendered ineffective at times, while Cody Zeller played a total of 26 minutes in the 2023 NBA Finals. For all his worldly abilities, Jokic too needed support in the frontcourt and the arrival of Aaron Gordon not only gave Jokic a more capable partner defensively, but one who can join him in wreaking havoc in the paint.
Free agency and the upcoming NBA Draft will obviously be areas to but it may be time to dig deep into their roster for more alternatives. The resurgence of Duncan Robonson and the emergence of Haywood Highsmith offer some promise, but Nikola Jovic and Omer Yurtseven are intriguing options as well. Jovic saw limited minutes in the regular and postseason, but it would be interesting to see how he fares in summer league later this year and perhaps extended playing time if the Heat opt not to sign some of their key free agents.
The same can be said for Omer Yurtseven, who has for some reason been buried on the bench for the most part of two seasons. When given minutes, Yurtseven can easily rack up double-doubles and can run with Miami’s rotation players. In a series where possession was crucial, his presence could have provided some much-needed relief for Adebayo.
The sting of another NBA Finals loss may last for quite some time for the Miami Heat, but all is not lost in terms of their future. Their status as postseason contenders remains even after today and the path for them to once again exceed everyone’s expectations has been laid down by their finals opponents, who themselves needed time before they ascended to the summit of the NBA.