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The best Miami Heat team to never win a title

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The 1996-97 Miami Heat went 61-21 and were a dominant defensive force. Were they the best Heat team to never win a championship?

The Miami Heat have been able to win 3 NBA Championships. That may not seem like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, they are one of the few franchises with that many.

And over at SBNation.com — Mike Prada has put together a package of articles looking at the best teams to never win a title. But there are a few rules you have to abide by. Particularly for our discussion around Heat teams.

Notably, it goes by era — so any team that has a core nucleus is considered an era. For the Heat, you could say they had a Glen Rice era (but they were never contenders). Then you had the Mourning and Hardaway era. The Wade-Shaq era. And then we had the LeBron-Wade-Bosh era. If an era wins a title, they can’t be considered for this award. So the 04-05 Heat team is out, although they were good. And the two title-less years with LeBron are also out.

So that really leaves us with the Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning era — and I believe the best team in that era was the 1996-97 Miami Heat that went 61-21.

Mike Prada agrees, and he put that Heat team in the category of teams that were good, but they couldn’t win it all because of another team (the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls).

Let’s talk about that team for a second.

This was the Heat team that featured the best version of Tim Hardaway that we saw in a Heat uniform and Alonzo Mourning — a powering defensive presence. They rounded out a rotation with P.J. Brown, Jamal Mashburn and Voshon Leonard/Dan Majerle in the starting lineup.

This team was a defensive monster — but that was the era they lived in. Pat Riley in only his second season coaching the Heat, gave them a real shot at a title. This was a good team. They were rugged and they were tough.

The playoffs were highlighted by their epic 7-game battle against the New York Knicks. The Knicks had a 3-1 series lead, but the Heat won Game 5, although the game was remembered for P. J. Brown fighting with Charlie Ward. Some Knicks players came off the bench and earned automatic suspensions, and Brown was suspended for the rest of the series. The Heat players stayed on the bench and gained an advantage for the rest of the series. One of the most heated rivalries in the NBA was born at this time.

In case, you want to watch Tim Hardaway drop 38 points in a Game 7 win, here you go.

But after that, the Heat lost to the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Just no match, really, for Michael Jordan on his way to his 5th NBA Title. That wasn’t the end of this era, the Heat would play the Knicks in the next three playoffs, but would lose to them all three teams. All 4 series went the maximum games, and 2 of the series were decided by a point in the final game. After that, the Heat dealt with the crushing blow to Alonzo Mourning’s health.

That was the era. 1997 was the closest they got, but was still way short of what the Chicago Bulls were.

Mike Prada ranked them 9th in the teams in their category — good but someone was in the way. Of the 8 ahead of them, only two are from the same era (the 1996-97 Utah Jazz and the 1997-98 Indiana Pacers). That Jazz team was good and that Pacers team pushed the Bulls to 7 (the only team to do that to Jordan in his championship runs).

I asked Mike Prada where he would put this Heat team in regards to the other 90’s teams in all his categories — and he put them about 11th. Here’s how he mapped it out.

TIER 1
-90s Jazz (97) (1 seed in “Not Good Enough”)
-90s Sonics (94) (1 seed in “Flameout”)

TIER 2
-Clyde’s Blazers (91) (3 seed in “Flameout”)
-Barkley’s Suns (93) (3 seed in “Not Good enough”)
-Ewing’s Knicks (93) (5 seed in “Flameout)
-Shaq/Penny Magic (95) (3 seed in “Robbed/cut short”)

TIER 3
-Pre-Phil Jackson Lakers (98) (3 seed in “Overachiever”)
-Reggie’s Pacers (98) (7 seed in “Not Good Enough”)
-Late 80s/Early 90s Cavs (10 seed in “Robbed/cut short”
-Robinson’s Spurs (95) (10 seed in “Flameout”)
-Zo/Riley Heat (97) (9 seed in “Not Good enough”)

So...what do you think about that?

Maybe I am biased. But he’s got quite a few teams better than the Heat. I personally think they should move up a few spots right behind the Shaq and Penny teams — so maybe at the top of the third tier.

These Heat teams were not glamorous. They were defensive-minded and tough teams. Most people won’t recognize that, but they were very good.

Let us know what you think about this whole thing and how you think Mike Prada placed this Heat team.