If NBA commissioner Adam Silver does not select Goran Dragic to fill Kevin Love’s Eastern Conference All-Star roster spot – or any other that might come open in the next two weeks– then the Heat this season could something achieve that has never been done in the NBA.
No team in NBA history has ever won a playoff series without having a player on its roster that had been in an All-Star Game at any time prior to that, according to a Miami Herald analysis tracing back to the game’s inception in 1951.
The Heat has a chance to do that, unless Dragic is added to the roster or barring the addition of a former All-Star via trade or buyout.
Dragic said Wednesday he would like to be selected as an injury replacement and Erik Spoelstra said: "What do we have to do to get him in there? He deserves it."
So what does history say about the playoff chances of teams that don’t have an All-Star that season?
Consider this: In the 67-year history of the All-Star Game, only 20 NBA teams have won a playoff series without having an All-Star on their roster that season.
Of those 20, only two won more than one playoffs series: the 1993-1994 Indiana Pacers (who won two) and the 1977-1978 Seattle SuperSonics (who won three before losing to the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals).
But unlike this Heat team, all 20 of those teams had players who had been All-Stars previously, including Reggie Miller from that Pacers team and Fred Brown from that NBA Finals Seattle team.
In a star-driven league, these Heat players believe they have the needed components to prove they don’t need neon names to advance in postseason.
“It's like going against the grain a little bit,” guard Wayne Ellington said of Miami’s approach. “Everybody is like, ‘you've got to have this and that, to be successful, to win in the playoffs.’ I don't think that's the case with us.”
Ellington cites two reasons: “One, the roster we’ve got. We've got guys capable of being All Stars. And two, the way we play. We play team basketball. We can beat anybody on a given night. If you play like that, we can beat anybody because we're very hard to guard. Having that chemistry, having that bond as a team definitely plays into it.”
Dragic also is curious to see how far the Heat can advance with this ensemble formula.
“I think we can go far,” he said. “Basketball is not only one guy. It's a team. It's five guys. If you have a good relationship on the floor and good chemistry, it's even better. Of course, superstars make those shots at the end. But so far this season, we have found a way to do that. So it’s a good situation for us.”
Seven teams this century have won a playoff series (exactly one, in each case) without an All-Star on its roster that season. That group included the 2003-04 Heat, which beat New Orleans and then lost to Indiana during Dwyane Wade’s and Udonis Haslem’s rookie seasons. Eddie Jones had been a three-time All-Star earlier in his career but not that season.
“I don't know if my rookie year we deserved to have an All-Star,” Haslem said last week, recalling that season. “Dwyane was a rookie. Lamar [Odom] played well that year. He was definitely our leading scorer, our best player at that time. To me, Goran is more deserving than anybody we had on that team."
On not having an All-Star, Haslem said: “It’s frustrating, annoying, but as a team we don't need any more ways to be motivated. We're already motivated. I make sure of that every night. We kind of like being the underdogs. We embrace it."
Only two teams this decade have won a playoff series without an All-Star: the 2016 Portland Trail Blazers (Damian Lillard had been an All-Star the previous two years) and the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies.
Kings forward Zach Randolph remembered how that Grizzlies team reacted when he and his teammates learned they didn’t have an All-Star that season.
“We were motivated. That definitely can motivate a team; hell, yeah,” Randolph, who had been an All-Star the previous season, recalled last week during a visit to AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We were the underdog. We had no All-Stars but we knew we had a group of guys that would battle every night and compete and stood up for each other and had each other's back.” That team, featuring Randolph, Shane Battier, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and others, beat the Spurs and then lost to the Thunder.
If the Heat finishes in the fourth or fifth seed -- Miami now sits fourth -- it would be given a decent or better chance to beat any opponent, potentially Milwaukee (Miami is 2-0 against the Bucks) or Washington (1-1) or Indiana (2-1).
And unless Silver names Dragic as an injury replacement or Pat Riley somehow adds a past or somehow All-Star, Miami will have a chance to become the first team in NBA history to win a playoff series without a player with an All-Star appearance on his resume.
“I absolutely feel like we will be that team that goes against the grain and shows that it can be done,” Ellington said.
Please click here for my in-depth takeaways and lots of notes, nuggets and reaction from Miami’s Wednesday loss in Cleveland, plus news on the Heat getting a disabled player’s exception from the NBA.
Since the first All-Star Game in 1951, 20 NBA teams that did not have a player on the All-Star team that season won at least one round in the playoffs that year.
Of those 20, 18 won a single round before being eliminated in their second playoff series. Of those 20 teams, one team (the 1994 Indiana Pacers) won two series and lost in its third series. Of those 20, one teams won three rounds before losing in the NBA Finals (the 1977-78 Seattle SuperSonics).
All of those 20 teams had players who had appeared in previous NBA All-Star Games.
A look at those 20 teams:
1975: Chicago Bulls. Beat Kansas City, then lost to Golden State. Bob Love a previous All-Star.
1976: Cleveland Cavaliers. Beat Washington, then lost to Boston. Austin Carr a previous All-Star.
1978: Seattle SuperSonics. Beat Los Angeles Lakers and Portland and Denver but lost to Washington in NBA Finals. Fred Brown a previous All-Star.
1979: Atlanta Hawks. Beat Houston, then lost to Washington. John Drew a previous All-Star
1982: Washington Bullets. Beat New York, then lost to Boston. Spencer Haywood a previous All-Star.
1983: New York Knicks. Beat New Jersey, then lost to Philadelphia. Bernard King a previous All-Star.
1985: Portland Trail Blazers. Beat Dallas, then lost to Lakers. Kiki Vandeweghe a previous All-Star.
1987: Milwaukee Bucks. Beat Philadelphia, lost to Boston. Sidney Moncrief a previous All Star.
1992: Seattle SuperSonics. Beat Golden State, lost to Utah. Ricky Pierce a previous All-Star.
1994: Indiana Pacers. Beat Orlando, then beat Atlanta, then lost to New York. Reggie Miller a previous All Star.
1994: Denver Nuggets: Beat Seattle, then lost to Utah. Dikembe Mutombo a previous All-Star.
1996: Atlanta Hawks. Beat Indiana, then lost to Orlando. Mookie Blaylock a previous All Star.
1998: New York Knicks. Beat Miami, then lost to Indiana. Patrick Ewing a previous All Star.
2001: Charlotte Hornets. Beat Miami, then lost to Milwaukee. Otis Thorpe a previous All-Star.
2002: Detroit Pistons. Beat Toronto, then lost to Boston. Jerry Stackhouse a previous All-Star.
2004: Miami Heat: Beat New Orleans, then lost to Indiana. Eddie Jones a previous All-Star.
2007: Chicago Bulls. Beat Miami, then lost to Detroit. Ben Wallace a previous All Star.
2007: Golden State Warriors: Beat Dallas, then lost to Utah. Baron Davis a previous All-Star.
2011: Memphis Grizzlies. Beat San Antonio, then lost to Oklahoma City. Zach Randolph a previous All Star.
2016 Portland Trail Blazers. Beat Los Angeles Clippers, then lost to Golden State. Damian Lillard a previous All Star.