Takeaways from The Heat and Panthers’s Eighth Seed, Improbable Runs


Andres Rodriguez

The Miami Heat and Florida Panthers had similar obstacles to overcome this postseason. Fighting until the end, both teams lost their final game, their last obstacle to becoming champions.

Three months ago, South Floridians congregated into their living rooms for the start of the National Basketball Association playoffs. Seeming like the NBA Finals was an unlikely destination, the eighth seed Miami Heat clinched their postseason ticket after outlasting the Chicago Bulls in the play-in round.

Inside hockey arenas, the National Hockey League playoffs commenced on April 17, which included the eighth seed Florida Panthers. Despite accumulating the fewest points out of the 16 teams competing, the underdogs of the league stunned opponents with their relentless attitude and hostile style of play.

Termed the “Cinderella Stories” of the 2023 NBA and NHL postseasons, both the Heat and Panthers delighted fans with fourth quarter comebacks and buzzer beater goals. Never before had an NBA, formed in 1947, and NHL team won a championship in the same year from the same metropolitan area.

Both [South Florida] teams had great, unprecedented playoff runs […] Many people including me were disappointed in the results, but I think it’s important to recognize the accomplishments as two eighth seed teams. These historic runs serve the purpose of demonstrating the capacity and talent of these two teams and hopefully can inspire them next year to pursue a championship,

— senior Emmanuel Lopez

Although the Heat and Panthers fell short of their goals, South Floridians remain confident in bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy and the Stanley Cup to town in 2024. For now, both organizations must reflect on their previous success and consider making moves this offseason.

Miami Heat; Regular Season Record: 44-38

Jimmy Butler signed with the Miami Heat on July 6, 2019. Since moving to the “305”, Butler has led the Heat to four consecutive playoff appearances, three conference championships and two NBA Finals. Under his wing, the Heat have assembled an untraditional roster which contains nine undrafted players.

Sports Editor Andres Rodriguez, along with his father and two brothers, attended the watch party for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. (Andres Rodriguez)

Tipping off their Finals run, Miami upset the Milwaukee Bucks in five games, with the help of a 56 point performance by Butler in Game 4. The Heat faced a difficult obstacle in the Eastern Conference semifinals, forfeiting home court advantage to the New York Knicks. In six games, however, the Heat punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals, once again facing the Boston Celtics.

Miami was in the driver’s seat, holding a vicious 3 to 0 lead against the Celtics. The series lasted seven games before the Heat shut down their opponents for good.

“Watching the [Miami] Heat in the finals was amazing. One of my favorite parts during the playoff season was when the Heat avoided an Eastern Finals collapse against Boston while no one expected them to win,” junior Ruben Sanchez said.

Climbing to the mountain top, Miami confronted two-time Most Valuable Player recipient Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray, both stars for the Denver Nuggets. Inconsistent from three point range and failing to secure rebounds, the Heat grinded, scratched and did what they could until the very end; despite their efforts, the Denver Nuggets became the 2023 NBA Champions.

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“This Miami heat team showed a ton of resiliency throughout the whole playoffs and against all odds made it to the NBA Finals. They have such a strong core and almost half their guys being undrafted just testifies to the culture this team has implemented. [I think] this a great example to always keep fighting against all odds and to believe in your self,” sophomore German Striebeck said.

Free-agency begins in the summer but the Heat have expressed little concern thus far. Across the NBA market, basketball stars like Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal are considered potential fits in Miami for the upcoming season. Internally, Miami has to make critical decisions about undrafted free agents Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, who combined 494 points in the 2023 playoffs.

The eight seed team, reigning Eastern Conference champions, have several championships up their sleeve as long as questions are answered during the offseason.

Florida Panthers; Regular Season Record 42-32

Skating as the “Comeback Cats” of the NHL postseason, the Florida Panthers experienced their share of wins in 2023. Since 2014, the franchise has reached the postseason five times and won a playoff series. Under newly appointed head coach Paul Maurice, the Panthers were destined for a long season.

First and foremost, the Panthers eliminated the first seed Boston Bruins in seven games, who were deemed the title favorites prior to the postseason. After a shocking turnout in the first round, they handled the fourth seed Toronto Maple Leafs in five games.

In dominant fashion, Florida swept the two seed Carolina Hurricanes and recorded the fourth-longest game in the NHL Modern Era which lasted until 1:54 a.m. Captain Alexzander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuck scored multiple goals to help clinch the Panther’s second Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history. 

“I had never watched hockey before [these playoffs]. Then, I watched a little bit of the sport and it seemed more interesting than I thought it was. It is good that the Panthers were able to make the Finals and play as well as they did,” junior Sebastian Lopez said.

Chasing the cup, Florida knew its next opponent in the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Despite scoring two or more goals in each game, the Panthers struggled with transition defense and disrupting shots. On Tuesday, the Golden Knights were announced 2023 NHL champions.

The majority of Florida players remain under contract, so the organization can focus on the NHL draft and develop young, defensive players. Rejuvenated, the Panthers are listed at +400 odds to secure the 2024 championship, the ninth best odds in the league.

In pursuit of larger goals, both the Panthers and Heat solidified themselves as contenders for upcoming seasons. Come 2024, South Floridians will visit the arenas to support their local teams once again.