Jimmy Butler
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The 2020 Miami Heat share similarities with the 1999 New York Knicks, but that’s where the resemblance between franchises ends.

Danny Small

The Miami Heat are on their way to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014, but they are a much different team this time around. The 2020 version of the Heat is the lowest-seeded team to make a run to the NBA Finals since…the 1999 New York Knicks.

Although they ultimately couldn’t finish off their run with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, those ’99 Knicks made an improbable run to the Finals as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. This Heat team was not quite the underdog that the Knicks were, but there are striking similarities between the two teams.

The first and most obvious similarity between the two teams is that they both had to go through the No. 1 seed to make the Finals. This year’s Miami squad cruised to a five-game series win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The ’99 Knicks, on the other hand, shocked the ’99 Heat 3-2 in the first round.

Sidenote: Pat Riley was the coach of that Miami team after leading the Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1994. Although he is no longer manning the sidelines for the Heat, he was the architect of this current Finals-bound roster.

In addition to beating the top seed in the East, the Heat will have to play the No. 1 seed out West, just like the Knicks did.

The next, and arguably the biggest similarity between these improbable runs is the fact that they happened in the midst of a bizarre season. Of course, the outbreak of coronavirus has relegated this year’s playoffs to a bubble in Orlando without fans.

In 1999, the strike-shortened season opened the door for an upstart team like the Knicks to make an unexpected run to the Finals. The Knicks ultimately fell short of a title when they ran into the vaunted San Antonio Spurs. That championship was the first of five in 15 years for San Antonio.

Could the Lakers be on the cusp of a similar run or are the Heat going to continue to shock the world? Only time will tell, but the similarities between the 2020 Heat and 1999 Knicks run deep.

What the Knicks can learn from the Heat?

The similarities between the Knicks and Heat end after this comparison. The two franchises couldn’t be further apart in 2020. For one, the Knicks have been tanking for the last two seasons with very little to show for it. The Knicks have only won three playoff series since that 1999 squad’s improbable run to the NBA Finals.

Since Riley left the Knicks for the Heat in 1995, Miami has only had five losing seasons in total. That means they have fewer losing seasons than trips to the NBA Finals with Riley running the show from the bench or the front office.

How has Miami maintained success throughout the years? Well, surely they must have tanked for a few years to snag a top talent in the NBA Draft. Wrong. The Heat don’t tank. It’s just not in their DNA to punt on a season.

They’ve only had one top-10 pick in the last 10 years and that was Justise Winslow in 2015. Miami took Bam Adebayo in the 2017 draft with the 14th pick and now he’s an All-Star and a second-team All-Defense selection. In 2019, they took Tyler Herro — who is averaging 16.5 points in the playoffs — at No. 13.

The Heat’s recent draft picks are proof that the key to hitting in the draft is through scouting and preparation. Sure, choosing in the top 10 can increase your chances of landing a stud, but it’s not always that simple.

The only Knicks blockbuster signing of the last decade has been Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010 (and to a lesser extent re-signing Carmelo Anthony). In that same timeframe, the Heat have signed LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, and re-signed Dwyane Wade.

Huh, it seems like when teams try to compete year in and year out, the best players want to go play there. Go figure.

Twitter GMs will tell you that playing for the playoffs is a death sentence. It’s NBA purgatory to try and sneak into the playoffs in a year when the NBA Finals is likely out of reach. This never stopped the Heat from going for it all and it clearly hasn’t left Miami in a state of limbo.

I can’t help but think back to the 2016-17 Heat who finished 41-41. They began the season 11-30 and looked like they were on their way to a high draft pick. But instead of wilting, they refused to lay down. Miami finished the season going 30-11 and narrowly missing the playoffs.

Wayne Ellington was on that Heat team and back in November, he spoke about what it takes to make that kind of turnaround in the middle of the season.

Obviously, the Knicks didn’t have what it takes to replicate the Heat’s 2016-17 success, but that shows how the stark differences between the two franchises. Perhaps that changes with the hard-nosed Tom Thibodeau coming into New York to set a new course for the Knicks.

New Yorkers can only hope.

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