Before you simply dismiss the Miami Heat and hand the Los Angeles Lakers the NBA championship trophy, stop and take a little closer look at this matchup.
Surprisingly, it looks like another matchup that wound up sending shockwaves in Finals history.
Sure, on paper, the Heat vs. Lakers looks like a mismatch. It’s David vs. Goliath.
The Lakers have two of the best three or four players in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And in the NBA, that’s usually the recipe to winning and winning big.
By most accounts, winning the championship is a foregone conclusion. Winning four of the next seven games, starting tonight in Orlando, just a formality.
And the Heat? A nice collection of overachieving players led by Jimmy Butler who has never won anything while bouncing around to a few teams in NBA America.
But we’ve seen this movie before. It was the Lakers vs. the Pistons. Back then, everybody thought that was going to be a cakewalk, too.
Butler told the media exactly what the Heat are.
“A really good team. That’s it,” he said. “A really good team. (I’m) not gonna say we’re any better than anybody else, but I don’t think we are underdogs. I don’t.
“So what, nobody picked us to be here. That’s OK. Pretty sure nobody’s picking us to win, either.”
Nobody — and we mean, nobody — gave the 2004 Pistons a shot at beating the Shaq and Kobe Lakers.
Remember, that dynamic duo had already won three titles in a row — 2000, 2001, and 2002. Their legacy had already been etched in stone. They were living and breathing Hall of Famers still playing.
They didn’t win in 2003. But most thought they’d win again in 2004 against the Pistons, a gritty, hard-working team built by GM Joe Dumars with solid players, but most of them were castoffs, also-rans. Individually, they were nothing to write home about.
But as a team, they were special.
In the true sense of the word, the Pistons had no one-named stars like Shaq or Kobe. Nothing close to that, despite having Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace.
But those guys, those Pistons, who few gave a chance, pulled off what many believe to this day to be the greatest upset in NBA history.
It was supposed to be a sweep. And it was. The first five-game sweep in NBA history. But Detroit had the brooms and easily could have won all five games played in that series. The Pistons won Game 1 in Staples Center. The Pistons should have won Game 2, but Kobe hit a late three to tie the game. L.A. won it in OT.
The next three games were at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The idea was that the Pistons would never return to L.A. for Games 6 or 7. The belief was the Lakers would win all three games in Motown and come back to L.A. with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in hand.
Of course, the Pistons would never return to L.A., having won all three, doing the improbable: Beating a Lakers team that had four future Hall of Famers. Along with Shaq and Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton were also on that squad.
Enter the Heat.
In this Super Team, lopsided competition era of the NBA, the Heat represent the best team built since those 2004 Pistons.
They didn’t get here by accident. But like those Pistons, all are surprised about where they sit today — except their fans, of course, who have been watching this come together closely.
And their road to potentially winning their first NBA title since James wore their uniform with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and that Heat team that won two chips in four straight trips to the Finals, hasn’t been easy by any stretch.
The Heat have already had success in beating the King of the Hill. Enter Giannis Antetokounmpo. They dispatched of the Eastern Conference favorites, the Bucks, easily. They also knocked off the talent-laden Boston Celtics with supposedly the brightest young coach in the NBA in Brad Stevens.
Now, they have a chance to prove this journey hasn’t been a fluke, but a destiny.
“I think we are supposed to be here,” Butler said. “That’s how we think of it.
“To me, to us, that’s all the matters. We’re not underdogs. We’re competitors.”
Just like the 2004 Pistons who went on to be crowned champs.