Only a few weeks away from the 27th season since Pat Riley joined the Heat in 1995, I’ve created a list ranking all twenty-six seasons during his tenure. Rather than just purely looking at total wins, or playoff finishes, I have tried to compare the rosters and rank the teams in comparison to how they would fare if they faced each other. Unfortunately for Heat fans, health and injury issues still count in these rankings, so those teams will once again be cut short of their potential.
This season was so disastrous, it caused Pat Riley to retire (again). Dwyane Wade missed the last third of the season with a knee injury and Alonzo Mourning suffered a career-ending knee injury. The 2006 championship roster quickly transitioned to significant roles for Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Daequan Cook, and others who had quick stops in the league.
With Mourning still dealing with his kidney ailment, and leading scorer Eddie Jones missing the 2nd half of the season, the Heat stumbled to the worst record in the division. The only bright spots were Caron Butler’s All-Rookie season and the product of this struggle led to the 5th pick in the 2003 Draft which changed the course of the franchise forever.
In Dwyane’s “One Last Dance”, the Heat narrowly missed the playoffs in the final week of the season. This year also marked a transition to young players like Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, and Bam Adebayo moving into significant roles. Richardson led the team in minutes, steals, and points and was the piece moved to land Jimmy Butler that summer.
With Mourning’s inspiring return to the court, the Heat finally got to see the vision of Zo, Brian Grant, and Eddie Jones together. However, the additions of veterans like Chris Gatling, Rod Strickland, LaPhonso Ellis, Kendall Gill, and Jimmy Jackson were not enough support. The Heat stumbled out of the gates, and never recovered en route to Pat Riley’s first season missing the playoffs during his legendary coaching career.
Record: 44-38 (Division Champs, Lost in 1st Round)
After winning the first championship in franchise history, the “championship hangover” lasted all the way until a 1st round sweep to the Bulls. With injuries to Shaq and Wade, Pat Riley missing time, and a stale roster that “ran it back” to an embarrassing failure.
Losing LeBron James would push most teams into tanking, but the Miami Heat remained competitive. And after the trade deadline acquisition of Goran Dragic, the Heat looked to be elevating itself in the Eastern Conference race. Unfortunately shortly after the trade, it was discovered that Chris Bosh would be sidelined with blood clots and their playoff aspirations vanished.
Record: 44-38 (Lost in 1st Round)
In a season highlighted by the re-acquisition of Dwyane Wade at the trade deadline, the Heat fought its way to a division championship before a disappointing 1st round loss to the Sixers in 5 games. After an exciting 16-17 run, the Heat questionably “ran it back” re-signing Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and adding Kelly Olynyk to a team that seemed stuck in mediocrity.
Record: 47-35 (Lost in 1st Round)
Without prime Wade carrying the load, this roster may be one of the worst in Heat history. A supporting cast of Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Beasley, Quentin Richardson (acquired mid-season), Mario Chalmers, and Carlos Arroyo was enough to make the playoffs, but the season quickly ended at the hands of the Celtics in the 1st round. The disappointment of another season wasted in Wade’s prime would soon lead to more promising times.
Record: 43-39 (Lost in 1st Round)
The Heat rebounded from one of their worst seasons in franchise history under new head coach Erik Spoelstra, who had a healthy Dwyane Wade at his peak, scoring a career-high 30.2 points per game. Along with Wade and Jermaine O’Neal, the Heat added two youngsters to the rotation – 2nd overall pick Michael Beasley, and a 2nd round point guard Mario Chalmers who quickly became the starting point guard. While greatly improved, the Heat lost in the 1st round to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games.
With Dwyane leaving for Chicago, the Heat were now “Big 3-less” and started the season 11-30. Heading for one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Heat flipped the script and finished 30-11 but lost a tie-breaker to qualify for the playoffs. Following his max contract, Hassan Whiteside led the NBA in rebounding. Goran Dragic starred a balanced attack with eight players averaging double digit points for the season.
Record: 50-32 (Lost in 1st Round)
The Heat looked poised to improve on a 50-win season after acquiring Eddie Jones and Brian Grant to pair with Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning, and a strong supporting cast. But after returning from the Olympics, it was discovered that Mourning had a kidney disorder that would cause him to miss the entire season. As part of the Eddie Jones trade, Anthony Mason had a surprising All-Star season for the Heat. But the season ended in 1st round disappointment, swept by the recently traded Jamal Mashburn and the Charlotte Hornets.
Record: 42-40 (Lost in 1st Round)
In his first season in Miami, Riley made immediate changes. The Heat acquired Alonzo Mourning on the first day of the regular season, and later traded to land Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatling, and Walt Williams. The mid-season addition of Voshon Lenard from the CBA also proved to be crucial. Mourning became the Heat’s first all-star during this season. Although they ultimately fell to the 72-10 Bulls in the 1st round, the Heat were able to defeat the Bulls with just 8 players in February.
Record: 40-32 (Lost in 1st Round)
A season marked league-wide by COVID restrictions and empty arenas, the Heat were unable to shake off injuries and inconsistencies after their exciting run to the NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble. Their late season run avoided the “play-in games” but drew a 1st round matchup with eventual champion Milwaukee that ended in four games.
Record: 42-40 (Lost in 2nd Round)
This season marked the second chapter of the Riley era. After handing the head coaching role to Stan Van Gundy, the team moved forward with rookie Dwyane Wade and undrafted Udonis Haslem, a newly acquired Lamar Odom, and what remained of the early 2000s Heat. After an 0-7 start, the Heat managed to finish strong and land the 4th seed. Wade began to establish himself as an emerging superstar in clutch moments, defeating the New Orleans Hornets in seven games, before being eliminated in six competitive games to the Indiana Pacers.
Record: 48-34 (Division Champs, Lost in 2nd Round)
The Heat returned to the playoffs only one season removed from losing LeBron James, winning their division and finishing 3rd in the East. Sparked by rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, as well as the rise of Hassan Whiteside. The youngsters complimented Wade, Goran, and an all-star return of Chris Bosh. Unfortunately for the Heat, following the All-Star Game Bosh was sidelined again due to the blood clots which would eventually end his career. Wade led the Heat past the Hornets in seven games in the 1st round, before falling short to the Raptors in seven games in the 2nd round.
Record: 55-27 (Division Champs, Lost in 1st Round)
Overcoming significant injuries to Mourning and Mashburn, the Heat finished 2nd in the East led by another strong season by Hardaway. For the second straight postseason, the Heat found themselves matched up against the Knicks. Late in game four, with a 2-1 lead, Alonzo Mourning fought former teammate Larry Johnson. The Heat would lose that game, as well as game five without a suspended Zo.
Record: 59-23 (Division Champs, Lost in East Finals)
The Heat immediately became a title contender after acquiring Shaquille O’Neal from the Lakers in July. Dwyane Wade joined his new teammate making his 1st all-star game. The Heat finished 1st in the East, swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs, but with a hobbled Wade the Heat fell short in the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the defending champion Pistons in seven games.
Record: 52-30 (Division Champs, Lost in 2nd Round)
Led by another All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year season by Alonzo Mourning, the Heat finished 2nd in the East. Jamal Mashburn elevated his play and was 2nd to Zo on the team in scoring. The Heat dealt with injuries to Hardaway and Lenard, but Anthony Carter and Bruce Bowen stepped into their roles admirably. After sweeping the Pistons, the Heat found themselves up against the Knicks for the fourth straight playoffs. After leading 3-2, the Heat lost the final two games of the series – including the unforgettable decision for Mashburn to pass the critical shot to Clarence Weatherspoon.
Record: 58-24 (Division Champs, Lost in Finals)
After adding superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Dwyane Wade, the Heat’s expectations were never higher. They finished with the 3rd best record in team history, but were 2nd in the East behind Chicago. The Heat “gentleman sweeped” themselves through the Eastern Conference playoffs, before facing the Mavericks in the Finals. The Heat won game one, led the series 2-1, but eventually lost the final three games of the series. The failure is usually remembered by the criticism of LeBron James, who averaged 8.9 less points per game in the series and only averaged three points in the series fourth quarters.
Record: 33-17 (Division Champs, Lost in 1st Round)
The Heat entered the playoffs as the East’s 1st seed in a lockout-shortened season. Alonzo Mourning had his best season in a Heat uniform, finishing 2nd in MVP voting and winning Defensive Player of the Year. Tim Hardaway also was selected to the All-NBA 2nd team. But in the playoffs, facing the Knicks for the third consecutive season, the Heat lost on a disgusting Allan Houston buzzer-beater in a winner-take-all Game 5. The Heat became the 2nd #1 seed in NBA history to lose in the 1st round and the Knicks’ run as the 8 seed went all the way to the NBA Finals.
Record: 61-21 (Division Champs, Lost in East Finals)
Building on his successful first season in Miami, Riley added Dan Majerle, PJ Brown, Ike Austin, and Jamal Mashburn (mid-season) to a talented Heat team. Hardaway had a career year, joining Mourning on the all-star team and finishing 4th in MVP voting. They finished 2nd in the East with a team best 61 wins and won their first playoff series in franchise history. After series wins against the Magic and Knicks, the Heat ran into the Bulls on their way to back-to-back championships.
Record: 44-29 (Division Champs, Lost in Finals)
After acquiring Jimmy Butler in the offseason, and with the emergence of all-star Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn, the Heat quickly became an unexpected contender in the Eastern Conference. When the season resumed in the Orlando bubble, Heat culture went on a magical run led by Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler – sweeping the Pacers, knocking out the MVP and 1st seed Bucks in five games, and winning the Eastern Conference by defeating the Celtics in six games. While they extended the series to six games, the Heat struggled to overcome injuries to Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo in a Finals loss to the Lakers.
Record: 52-30 (Division Champs, NBA Champs)
After falling short of a championship the year prior, the Heat engineered a multi-team trade to acquire Antoine Walker, James Posey, and Jason Williams, while adding veteran Gary Payton to the roster. Led again by Wade and Shaq, the Heat entered the playoffs as the East’s 2nd seed. After defeating the Bulls and Nets, the Heat were able to overcome the Pistons in a rematch of the previous Eastern Conference Finals. In their first NBA Finals, the Heat found themselves down 0-2 to the Mavericks. Taking advantage of the NBA’s 2-3-2 format, the Heat won the next 3 games in Miami and won their first championship by taking Game 6 in Dallas. Dwyane Wade provided a legendary performance in the Finals, averaging 34.7 point, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.7 steals in the series on way to the Finals MVP.
Record: 54-28 (Division Champs, Lost in Finals)
After winning back-to-back championships, the Heat looked to 3-peat in the 4th season of the “Big 3”. Entering the playoffs as the East’s 2nd seed, the Heat defeated the Bobcats, Nets, and Pacers on their way to a Finals rematch with the San Antonio Spurs. In what proved to be the end of the “Big 3” era, the Spurs dominated the Heat from start to finish, winning the championship in five games.
Record: 46-20 (Division Champs, NBA Champs)
After a disappointing finish to the previous year, and a lockout stalling the beginning of this season, the Heat finished 2nd in the East. Once again, Bosh, Wade, and James were all-stars and moved swiftly through the first two rounds of the playoffs, beating the Knicks and Pacers. Once again facing a disappointing exit from the playoffs, LeBron James turned in one of his most legendary playoff performances (45-15-5) in a game six Heat win in Boston. After losing the 1st game of the NBA Finals, the Heat swept the next four games to defeat the Thunder and win their 2nd championship in franchise history.
Record: 66-16 (Division Champs, NBA Champs)
After winning its first “Big 3” championship, the Heat added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the roster. Finishing 1st in the East propelled by a 27-game winning streak that is 2nd best in NBA history, all-star seasons by Wade, LeBron, and Bosh, and LeBron’s fourth MVP season (one vote from unanimous). The Heat made quick work of the Bucks and Bulls in the playoffs, before a difficult seven game series with the Pacers. In the NBA Finals, the Heat faced the Spurs and found themselves training 3-2 returning to Miami. With the yellow ropes surrounding the court and a Spurs championship imminent, Bosh rebounded a LeBron miss, found Allen in the corner for a game-tying 3 pointer to force overtime. The Heat would win that overtime sealed by a Bosh block on Danny Green, and eventually prevailed in Game 7 to win their 2nd consecutive championship.
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