Mar 05, 2014 12:57 PM EST
Listed as the top-heavy title darlings at 11/5 odds, the Miami Heat are still largely considered the favorites to win the title this season. LeBron James is playing at an all-time top-5 individual basketball level while also seemingly leaving enough in the tank to win 16 games again in late April, May and June.
Yet, oddsmakers and the general public seem to forget how incredibly difficult it is to threepeat in the NBA. Only three NBA franchises (Celtics, Lakers, Bulls) have been successful in completing the feat of winning three championships in a row in NBA history.
“There’s a reason these teams don’t do it,” Steve Kerr tells Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. “Emotionally, it’s just exhausting to keep doing it year after year, particularly when you have to deal with everything Miami has to deal with on a daily basis, just the constant critiquing and scrutiny on the team, and then you factor in the injuries with Wade and Bosh and their health. I don’t think Miami will get out of the East this year.”
While other contenders have been constantly tweaking their rotations up until the trade deadline, the Heat have stood pat with what they’ve had, other than shedding the contract of Joel Anthony for unserviceable guard Toney Douglass. Miami's rotation this season is much thinner than in previous seasons, and the pressure of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden to produce consistently would be a stretch.
The Indiana Pacers swapped Danny Granger for the talented former second overall pick Evan Turner to help provide more consistency as a swingman off the bench. Additionally, the Pacers were able to add Andrew Bynum as insurance for big man depth on their roster. Through 60 games, the Pacers bench has produced a solid positive 0.6-point differential compared to a negative 0.7-point differential last year per NBA.com.
Over the past two years, the Pacers have closed the gap on the Heat. Fused with the drastic annual improvements to now superstar Paul George, breakout player Lance Stephenson, a relentless pit bull-like mentality from David West, and the ruthless interior defense from Roy Hibbert, the Pacers are hungrier than ever to get past the Heat.
Comparing the rotations of the Heat last season to this one can give us a solid idea of its lack of depth. The loss of Mike Miller has pushed veteran Shane Battier to play even more meaningful minutes than what he signed up for. Outside of Battier, Erik Spoelstra is forced to use Beasley in hopes of spelling LeBron and Battier minutes in the playoffs. Miller was crucial in huge moments in last year’s playoffs hitting timely three-point shots as he did in 2012. Except for Ray Allen, the Heat have been unable to find a consistent three-point shooter that could take pressure off the Big Three.
Additionally, the loss of Anthony in favor of Oden should be looked at intently. Sure Oden beats Anthony from a talent standpoint, but trusting him to play a solid 15-20 minutes off the bench to spell Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen in the playoffs would be taking a huge risk, considering how brittle Oden’s knees are.
Lastly, we all know how much of an X-factor Dwayne Wade is for the title chances of the Heat. Last year, the Heat were in serious trouble against both the Pacers and Spurs, but Wade was able to string together a couple of old vintage performances. Because of Wade’s career long knee woes, we have only seen ‘flashes’ of his superstar play, rather than the old Flash we have all come to know. Wade’s knees aren’t getting any healthier even though he has been more strategic about rest throughout the regular season. Through the past three years, Dwayne Wade’s usage rate and PER has dropped each year, 28.9, 27, 25.4, and 26.37, 24.04, 22.43, respectively.
“As you get older, your game has to change and you have to think the game,” Wade tells Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald, “more than anything when you’re young, you just react….now you got to think the game, and so certain games when I’m frustrated with myself because I’m not thinking the game like I should, but for the majority of it, I do a good job of reading the game and thinking the game a little.”
Wade knows he can no longer rely on his athletic ability and must develop a craftier skill-set in order to prolong his basketball career. The Heat personnel put even more pressure on guys like Wade in order to produce by not providing much depth to back him up. Turner cost the Pacers merely $500,000 in order to acquire him, so while the Heat didn't have a huge expiring contract to cash in for a player like him, it is hard to imagine a deal for depth couldn't be made. Because of the talent in June's draft, this season has produced an even larger than normal surplus of teams trying to tank; therefore its quite strange to see the Heat not even make a minor move to help insure their team even a bit of depth on their quest for the rare threepeat.
During these upcoming playoffs, we will witness James realize his supporting cast is weaker than previous seasons, thus raising his game to another level. Similar to the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals in Game 5 when James scored the final 29 of 30 points for his Cavaliers, there is a good chance this type of performance will be required from him. His usage rate and stats will all be at all-time highs, yet it is still difficult to see the Heat winning a third straight title without the suitable supporting cast.
Feb 22, 2014 1:25 PM EST
Thursday at the NBA trade deadline, we saw a total of 26 players, seven second round draft picks, and zero blockbuster trades. On Friday, we covered how the 10 players that ended up on West teams will shape the playoff race, and now we are looking at the 16 that were sent to the D-League…whoops, I meant the Eastern Conference.
While the Western teams made a few smart, calculated trades to improve depth (Steve Blake to the Warriors) and cut costs (possible buyout for Jason Terry from the Kings), the East had the biggest deals of the deadline. The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).
The Brooklyn Nets traded their disappointing – but playoff tested – guard, Jason Terry, for the Sacramento Kings' disappointing – and never played in a playoff game – guard, Marcus Thorton. Thorton, who once averaged 21.3 points per game, is a solid sixth man and capable of scoring in bunches when needed though he has struggled badly this season. He will likely provide relief for Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson down the stretch of the season. However, adding his extra $730,000 in salary means paying a ridiculous $3.3 million in tax, bringing their total to over $88 million on taxes alone…for a team that won’t get out of the first round.
The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for 76ers' center, Spencer Hawes. He will likely anchor their team right to where they were destined to be before they traded for him…the lottery. Hawes is a talented 7-footer who leads all centers in three-pointers made and percentage, is an elite passer for his position, a good scorer and rebounder, and a capable body on defense when he cares. Forced to play on a hapless Philadelphia team, Hawes had no reason to try over the past few months, but as he heads into free agency this offseason, expect his production to go back up for the Cavs. Despite the addition of Hawes and recently acquired Luol Deng, this team is unfortunately still coached by Mike Brown, suggesting they are likely doomed to miss the playoffs and then ultimately lose Hawes and Deng to free agency for nothing.
Professor Andre Miller, PhD left his classroom for winter break on December 30th and has been M.I.A. ever since. However, after being traded to the Washington Wizards, you can rest assured Professor Miller will be making a teaching once again. Miller, who was restless under indecisive rookie head coach Brian Shaw will be a capable backup behind John Wall, likely helping lead this Wizards team to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Charlotte Bobcats made a good deal at the trade deadline. Say it with me: “The Bobcats did something right.” They traded valuable but redundant point guard, Ramon Sessions to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jeff Adrian for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. Ridnour is a terrific backup point guard who can play behind or with Kemba Walker, while Neal is an outstanding shooter who won an NBA Finals game last season by scoring 24 points in 25 minutes!
In the only move that might affect the NBA Finals this season, the Pacers trading former All-Star forward, Danny Granger to the 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Turner is a do-it-all forward who has fallen out of favor league-wide because he has failed to live up to the hype of a second overall pick. Turner should play with the first unit as well as anchor the second for the Pacers. His ball handling will allow George Hill, Paul George and CJ Watson to get free and take uncontested shots while giving them insurance –albeit expensive at an $8.7 million qualifying offer or whatever long-term offer he receives – in case Lance Stephenson leaves in free agency. Additionally, Allen started in the playoffs only two seasons ago and is a capable big man off the bench. Most importantly, Larry “The Legend” Bird signed off on this trade, thus, it must be great.
The last set of trades involved the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. Each team gave up players that weren’t part of their future and received cash, second round draft picks, and laundry service for a year in exchange for helping another team out. The Heat traded Roger Mason Jr. and cash for a pick they will likely never see in order to open a roster spot for Caron Butler (Tuff Juice wants to go home!). The 76ers, who were involved in a league-high four deals during the trade deadline ended up with five second round draft picks and five players that won’t be buying property in Philadelphia. Finally, the Hawks acquired Antawn Jamison from the Clippers and enough cash to take him out to a nice dinner before buying out his contract.
Compared to the four West teams that made a deadline deal, eight of the top ten Eastern franchises made a deal with only Chicago and Detroit remaining inactive. Whether this reflects the fragility of the Eastern Conference standings (5th place through 11th is separated by just 5.5 games), or the strength of the mighty teams in the West (3rd place in the East would be 10th in the West) is anyone’s guess. With that said, all these moves outside of Indiana and Miami are moot because none of them are making the Eastern Conference Finals.
Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat, Round III starts May 20th – Get ready, America!
Dec 04, 2013 11:26 AM EST
By any metric the Eastern Conference has struggled over the past two decades in regards to their depth of quality teams. The situation has reached a tipping point this season with a model by Arturo Galletti of BoxScoreGeeks.com showing the possibility of only the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers finishing with a record above .500.
There are a plethora of factors on why the Western Conference is better this season, from greater parity at the top of the table compared to the separation the Heat have created over their four seasons together and the cyclical nature of several Eastern Conference teams rebuilding at the same time.
From a long-term perspective, the Eastern Conference has won the lottery in 11 of the past 15 years, suggesting several teams in the East have had ample opportunities to rebuild.
But last year's All-NBA Teams had 11 of 15 from the West, nine of 15 in 11-12 and 10-11, 11 in 09-10, 08-09 and 07-08.
One element that has remained constant is that weather plays a significant role in where veteran free agents choose to sign. The Heat have attracted significantly more high profile free agents to play with LeBron James than ever was possible when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs always had a competitive advantage in signing veteran free agents during the previous decade that was more difficult during Kevin Garnett's tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Chris Paul and Doc Rivers taking control of the Los Angeles Clippers, that franchise is finally taking advantage of its weather and cultural advantages.
While the two warmest winter markets are in the Eastern Conference in Miami and Orlando, the gap between the average temperature for the two conferences as a whole is statistically significant with the Western Conference being nine degrees warmer.
Superstars that are drafted by teams in cold weather franchises certainly can be retained, but their ability to build around them with complementary pieces proves more difficult. Even the Oklahoma City Thunder have not attracted as many top players on the veteran's minimum as one would guess based on the caliber of their roster and title chances. Oklahoma City is not one of the coldest markets, but is more than 20 degrees colder than Los Angeles in January and doesn't offer some of the cultural attributes of a Chicago or New York.
Eastern Conference Average Temperature in January
Indiana Pacers: 26.5
Miami Heat: 68.1
Atlanta Hawks: 42.7
Washington Wizards: 34.9
Chicago Bulls: 22.0
Charlotte Bobcats: 41.7
Detroit Pistons: 24.5
Toronto Raptors: 21.0
Orlando Magic: 61.3
Boston Celtics: 29.3
Philadelphia 76ers: 32.3
Cleveland Cavaliers: 25.7
Brooklyn Nets: 32.1
New York Knicks: 32.1
Milwaukee Bucks: 20.7
- Average Temperature for Eastern Conference: 34.3
Western Conference Average Temperature in January
Portland Trail Blazers: 39.9
San Antonio Spurs: 50.3
Oklahoma City Thunder: 36.7
Los Angeles Clippers: 57.1
Denver Nuggets: 29.2
Golden State Warriors: 48.7
Dallas Mavericks: 44.1
Phoenix Suns: 54.2
Los Angeles Lakers: 57.1
New Orleans Pelicans: 52.6
Memphis Grizzlies: 39.9
Minnesota Timberwolves: 13.1
Sacramento Kings: 46.3
Utah Jazz: 29.2
Houston Rockets: 51.8
- Average Temperature for Western Conference: 43.3
Oct 29, 2013
The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.
Oct 08, 2013
Under Impact trainer Joe Abunassar, Dexter Pittman participated in workouts to increase his stamina, elevate his conditioning, and heard perspectives from the NBA veterans who would work out inside the facility.
Aug 16, 2013
Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.
Jul 01, 2013
With the 2013 NBA offseason underway, here is a primer on what all 30 teams are facing.
Jun 28, 2013
Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.
Jun 21, 2013
One of the most common criticisms of the Heat is that they “bought” their championships. The real story, though, is who exactly is doing the buying. For the Spurs, the players are cogs in an organization. In Miami, the players are the organization. They’re a worker-controlled factory, employee-owned and operated.
Jun 21, 2013
Through the first five games of the series, we had noticed a trend that had developed: The winner of the points in the paint battle turned out to be the victor in that particular game. Game 6 and Game 7 went the other way.
Jun 20, 2013
Teams, not individuals, win championships. The team that has played harder and smarter – minus a little Heat luck in Game 6 – has been the winner through the first six games. That won’t change in Game 7.
Jun 20, 2013
Jarvis Varnado will play on Miami’s summer league team in July, a critical moment for him to prove his standing to Heat management. He is confident the Heat will keep him through his non-guaranteed contract next season, but he also understands the burden of continuing to make strides.
Jun 19, 2013
Down 10 and in desperate need of a run, Erik Spoelstra went with the lineup that initiated the 33-5 run for the Heat in Game 2: Maro Chalmers, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, LeBron James and Chris Andersen. They scored on their first four possessions and opened up the floor.
Jun 19, 2013
There are a hundred fascinating storylines coming out of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, one of the greatest games in NBA history. The three-minute stretch to start the fourth quarter allowed the instant classic finish to play out and gives us a lot to consider ahead of Game 7.
Jun 17, 2013
Prior to Game 5, the Heat were averaging 58.7 percent on shots in the paint in the series, going 81-for-138 as a team. In Game 5, the Spurs did an excellent job of defending the paint, allowing the Heat to convert on just 46.5 percent.
Jun 14, 2013
It all started in the first quarter, with the Heat playing aggressively on defense and on offense with their modified starting lineup, aiming to play the way they play best: small.
Jun 14, 2013
Finishing the game with 32 points, six rebounds, four assist and a playoff career-high six steals, Dwyane Wade controlled the game and set the tone for the champs. It was his best game of the playoffs and a performance that could serve as a springboard for the remainder of the Finals.
Jun 13, 2013
Win or lose, LeBron James is ready to make a statement in Game 4. He won’t forget about his teammates, understanding he wouldn’t be in the Finals without them, but he understands it’s time to place his signature on the series for something more than a spectacular block or bad shooting night.
Jun 12, 2013
The Spurs took advantage of Miami’s lack of aggression and energy in Game 3 to get the shots they wanted instead of taking the shots the Heat wanted them to take: great ball movement led to great shot selection.
Jun 10, 2013
The two keys to the massive 33-5 run by the Heat were the pick-and-roll with LeBron James as the screener and Mario Chalmers being the primary ball-handler, and the lockdown defense they played in the second half, forcing 17 turnovers and converting them into 19 points.
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