Damian Lillard is the NBA’s personification of loyalty to a fault.
After eliminating the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat will now face off against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.
Once a franchise that expected success and titles under the big three of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the team now finds itself the underdogs for the NBA championship.
But the question is: why?
The Heat have shown they are a franchise worthy of being a championship ring favourite.
President Pat Riley has repeatedly shown his ability to construct teams ready for championship contention. Coach Erik Spoelstra has always had a keen eye for finding players who fit the grit-and-grind style of the Heat.
Miami has long been a destination for superstar free agent and trade signings alike, previously attracting the talent of the aforementioned LeBron James as well as Shaquille O’Neal.
It’s the roster, however, where the underdog quality originates.
Led by four-time all-star Jimmy Butler, the Heat roster is fuelled by a ‘chip on the shoulder’ mentality. Butler himself was the 30th pick in the 2011 draft before becoming the most improved player of 2015, that same year achieving his first all-star call-up.
Three-point sharpshooter Duncan Robinson was an undrafted pick in 2018 after being overlooked by NBA scouts for two years at Michigan.
Rookie Tyler Herro received death threats after he chose to nominate Kentucky over Wisconsin as his preferred college destination.
Unlike Lakers star duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they were not sworn into stardom, instead having to force their game to be recognised in the league.
The prospect of going up against two generational athletes in James and Davis will not be daunting for the Heat. This team is built for adversity and they have the system and skills to adapt accordingly.
The Heat have already shown their capability to plan against offences. The implementation of the zone defence against the Celtics was successful in disrupting Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker’s rhythm.
The Heat’s ability to switch defensively has also posed a major issue to teams in the post-season, led by their highly adaptable centre Bam Adebayo, not to mention switchable defenders in Derrick Jones Jnr and Jae Crowder.
Miami have great defensive pedigree throughout their entire roster, with former finals MVP Andre Iguodala also an option off the bench.
We have seen their potential to cause an upset after eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks, a team boasting the best record in the NBA as well as this season’s MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Taking on one of the greatest players of all time in James as well as a seven-time all-star Davis will be a difficult task.
But if we’ve learnt anything about the Heat this post-season, it’s that you can never rule them out.