Apr 12, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) and guard Dwyane Wade (3) block a shot by Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) during the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

National Media Outlets Are Underrating the Miami Heat's Chances This Season

The rest of the country isn’t giving the Miami Heat much of a chance to win an NBA title this season.

Sports betting website Bovada recently gave the Heat 40/1 odds of winning the 2015 championship. While I understand the logic of burying Miami’s chances–they got clobbered with LeBron James last season, and now they don’t have him at all–it’s the same odds handed out to the Paul George-less, Lance Stephenson-less Indiana Pacers.

The Heat are tied for the fourth-best odds in the Eastern Conference, behind the league-favorite Cleveland Cavaliers (5/2), Chicago Bulls (11/2) and Washington Wizards (33/1).

But Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney ranked the Miami Heat the seventh best team in the Eastern Conference and ESPN ranked them No. 6.

With a team including All-Star players Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and some top notch role players such as Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts, many Heat fans seem to hold their team in higher regard.

Here is what Mohoney had to say, who ranked the Heat below the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

The remodeled Heat are the most difficult team to peg by far. They could be altogether solid, perhaps snatching one of the middle postseason seeds. It’s just as likely that they could slide to the bottom of the playoff bracket or worse, as the construction of this strange new roster is untested. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will have to reinvent themselves in the wake of LeBron’s departure. Luol Deng, McRoberts and Danny Granger will join a team without much form or identity. Erik Spoelstra can be trusted to make the most of these circumstances, yet so much hinges on Wade’s health and the chemistry of this odd brew.

Meanwhile, ESPN predicted the Heat would finish with a 44-38 record, 10 wins fewer than last season.

Mohoney starts with a caveat, admitting that the Heat are a tough team to predict. But he seems to cap the Heat’s ceiling at a middle playoff seed. Assuming the Cavs and Bulls get the top two seeds (for arguments sake), is it so unfathomable that Miami would finish with a better record than the young Wizards, Raptors, Hawks and Hornets squads?*

That said, he is right that the core as currently constructed is untested. That’s not to say that Bosh and Wade aren’t experienced but that, without James, they will have to tinker with their roles. Most notably Bosh, after a four-year hiatus, figures to shoulder the scoring load, which could impact how effective he is on defense.

But the Cavs are ranked the top team in both polls. I ask: Isn’t that team untested? Are we just assuming that because James won a title in Miami that he won’t go through the steep learning curves that he went through with a vastly more experienced Heat team? The Cavs have serious defensive issues that need to be worked out** and the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are used to getting the lion’s share of shots.

Meanwhile, the Heat look very Spursian with multiple unselfish veterans focusing on ball movement and defense. These are proven fundamentals relevant to contending teams.

Outside of the Bulls, the Heat figure to have the top defense in the East. What the team has to figure out is how to score consistently, but the Pacers had the 23rd ranked offense in the league and finished with 56 wins last season. Miami’s defense probably won’t dominate like Indiana’s, but it’s offense with Bosh, Wade, McRoberts, Chalmers and Granger working under Erik Spoelstra’s system figures to rank in the top half of the league.***

The Heat return a balances, competitive team this season. I wouldn’t bet a ton of money on Miami winning the championship, but these rankings seem flawed.

 *Like the Heat, all these teams have flaws. Last time I checked, the Wizards are still coached by Randy Wittman, though they should be right there with the Heat. The Raptors’ best player last season, Kyle Lowry, was in a contract year and just re-signed. There is no telling how good that team is going to be with such a young core. I would give them decent odds of a back slide. The Hawks, with Al Horford back, figure to be in the mix. But how much better is a big three of Horford, Paul Milsap and Kyle Korver than Miami’s Bosh, Wade and Deng? And, finally, the Hornets have Al Jefferson and Lance Stephenson in the fold and will be much improved. For all of Stephenson’s talents, he hasn’t proved he can carry a back court. 

**Like his last season in Miami, James will be asked to defend the opponent’s best player. The Cavs signed Shawn Marion, but he will be 37 years old by the time the playoffs start. Defense will be a major issue in the playoffs, and we James figures to be the main stopper–something that wore on him over the course of the last postseason. Luckily for him, he can focus on defense while facilitating Irving and Love on offense. But can the Cavs win the title with James being the lone dominant defender and supporting offensive player?

***Since Spo took over in 2008, the Heat have never finished outside the top 20 in offensive rating, according to basketball-reference.com.

Tags: Miami Heat

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