The Heat missed the 2019 playoffs. They got swept by the Bucks in the first round of the 2021 playoffs.
Between, Miami smoked Milwaukee in the second round (4-1) and reached the 2020 NBA Finals in the bubble.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, via Eric Nehm of The Athletic:
Year 7. Ended with Miami. I don’t make excuses as an athlete, but it wasn’t a satisfying year for me because I felt like if it was a normal situation, it wouldn’t end up like that. But at the end of the day, I felt like Miami was built to be an NBA bubble team, you know?
Would the Heat have won the East if the 2019-20 season ended normally instead of in the bubble due to coronavirus? Maybe, maybe not.
We’ll never know. But Miami absolutely deserves credit for having the resiliency and focus necessary to prosper in that difficult environment. Those are admirable and important traits. It wasn’t coincidental this team with its culture thrived in the bubble. We can both praise the Heat for what they accomplished and acknowledge the test they aced might not have been the typical challenge facing a team in the playoffs.
This slight – intended or not, it is a slight – is interesting coming from Antetokounmpo.
Miami beat Milwaukee in both their regular-season meetings that season. (The Bucks beat the Heat in a seeding game, but Miami was missing its top player, Jimmy Butler, and Goran Dragic.) The Heat just matched up well with Milwaukee. Their strong outside shooting exposed a vulnerability in the Bucks’ defense. Miami also had the defensive personnel – led by Bam Adebayo, Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala and Butler – to wall off the paint from Antetokounmpo.
Though Antetokounmpo got hurt in the series, the Heat had already seized control. Bubble or not/home-court advantage surrendered or not, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks appeared unready for the challenge.
Of course, Milwaukee learned the right lessons. Continuing growth that occurs only through playoff setbacks, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks returned better than ever last season. They showed newfound versatility and resiliency en route to the championship.
Milwaukee remains a title contender. Tied for first in the Eastern Conference, Miami is again too. It’d be enjoyable if these teams meet in the playoffs – especially after Antetokounmpo’s comments.