Butler shrugs off ‘underdog’ tag as Heat brace for Lakers

ORLANDO (AFP) – Jimmy Butler said the Miami Heat don’t see themselves as NBA Finals underdogs despite starting the season as rank outsiders for the title.

Miami take on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 today (9am Brunei time) with a chance of becoming one of the longest-odds champions in basketball history.

Before the season tipped off 11 months ago, Miami were regarded as 60-1 shots of finishing the campaign as champions. Some bookmakers pegged them at 110-1.

Even before the season restarted in Orlando in July, the Heat were a generous 30-1 to win the title, with the dominant Milwaukee Bucks expected to emerge as the Eastern Conference representatives in the finals.

But fifth seeds Miami, the third lowest seeded team to reach the NBA Finals since 1984, have shredded the form book en route to today’s opener.

The Indiana Pacers were swept in the opening round before the vaunted Bucks were dismantled in five games in the conference semi-finals. The Heat then defeated Boston in six games to reach the championship round.

The Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler drives against Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. PHOTO: AFP

“A really good team. That’s it,” Butler said when asked to assess the Heat’s status. “Not going to say that we’re any better than anybody else, but I just don’t think that we’re underdogs. I don’t.

“So what that nobody picked us to be here? That’s okay. Pretty sure nobody is picking up to win, either.

“But we understand that. We embrace that, because at the end of the day we truly don’t care. We’re just going to go out here and compete, play together like we always have, and I’m going to see where we end up.

“But at the end of the day we’re going to do this our way, the Miami Heat way, and that way has worked for us all year long.”

Butler said the Heat have become a tight-knit group during the months spent in the Orlando bubble in Florida, where teams have been based since the restart in order to ward off the threat of COVID-19.

“I think we enjoy each other’s success so much, man, that you can tell every single day when we’re in the hotel,” Butler said.

“We talk about the game, but we also talk about how much joy it brings us to play with one another and how you can’t take this for granted.

“With this group we’ve got the right number of young guys who are super confident, older guys who are super confident, and then guys right in the middle who are super confident. It brings us pure joy to watch us continually grow as a team.”

Butler, who is playing in the Finals for the first time, admitted though that nerves could be a factor for Miami’s relatively inexperienced squad.

“We’ll see as the game goes. But I think there’s a lot of nerves for a lot of people, including myself,” Butler said. “This is the first time being here, so I just want to make sure that everybody is comfortable.

“We’ve been playing a certain way this entire year. I’m not getting away from that. I think that’s winning basketball for us, me making sure that everybody is involved. I think that’s part of my role on this team, so we’ll take it as the game goes, and we’ll figure it out.”