Two teams that immediately fell into tough times after finishing second in the last two NBA Finals can compare the consolation prizes Wednesday night when the Golden State Warriors host the Miami Heat in San Francisco.
The Warriors and Heat find themselves stuck between several teams battling for last position in the playoffs in their respective conferences with just two years and one year, respectively, from reaching the Finals.
The Warriors are in better shape than the two, having kept their heads above .500 for most of the season after posting the worst record in the league last year following their 4-2 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the End of 2019.
Golden State lost Shaun Livingston to retirement, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala to sign and trade and Klay Thompson to injury last season. They remain without those four key components of five straight trips to the Finals (three in Durant’s case), with Thompson having busted his Achilles this offseason while recovering from knee surgery.
Miami has been the hardest hit by COVID and NBA protocols this season. The Heat basically returned their entire roster intact from last year’s race to the Finals, where they were beaten 4-2 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
But Miami walked off the Staples Center court Monday tied for the 10th-best record in the East this year.
The Heat, which had a game canceled in January and struggled to adjust to the NBA’s minimum number of healthy bodies on several occasions, currently have no players absent due to COVID reasons. But they remain without two of their best guards, Goran Dragic (ankle) and Avery Bradley (calf), as well as veteran Meyers Leonard (shoulder).
All currently unavailable Golden State players, Thompson (Achilles) and centers James Wiseman (wrist), Kevon Looney (ankle) and Marquese Chriss (leg), are also linked to injuries.
The Warriors are coming off a 129-98 beating from visiting Cleveland on Monday. Stephen Curry scored 36 points in 30 minutes and Draymond Green posted a career-high 16 assists to set the pace for the victory, which was Golden State’s second in three outings in a four-game homestand.
Curry later admitted that he is frustrated by the fact that the Warriors continue to defeat the weakest clubs in the league (10-2 against teams below .500) but struggle against the heavyweights (5-11 against teams of .500 and above). Golden State was defeated 134-117 by Brooklyn on Saturday.
“We keep repeating it over and over: we have to prove it,” he observed. “We’re building confidence and we have a good chance, honestly, coming in. A good team from Miami is coming in. Go on tour, some tough opponents from the Eastern Conference. That’s the challenge ahead.”
The Warriors were swept by the Heat in their two-game series last year. Jimmy Butler averaged 18.5 points and Duncan Robinson 17.0 in wins, while Iguodala returned to the San Francisco Bay Area with a typically efficient effort plus 25 plus / minus in 17 minutes in a 113-101 Heat win in February.
Miami has reached the midpoint of a seven-game trip. After winning in Houston, the Heat have been beaten by two of the best in the West, Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, in the past four days.
Miami saw the Clippers score 125 points Monday despite sitting down Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The Heat have not had the same caliber of defensive team that held the Lakers to 108 points or less in each of the last four games of the Finals.
“We have to be proud of the defense,” said center Bam Adebayo. “Defense wins games. If we had played the cultural defense of the Miami Heat (against the Clippers), we would have won.
–Field level media
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.