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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 5. Miami Heat

Overall Win/Loss Record :  54-28, first place Southeast Division

2014/2015 Projection: 50-32, first place Southeast Division, third place Eastern Conference

Preseason Finish

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 102.2 (12th)
  • Points Allowed: 97.4 (5th)
  • Team FG%: .501 (1st)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .457 (16th)
  • Team FT%: .760 (14th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .364 (12th)
  • Rebounds per game: 36.9(30th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 40.3 (2nd)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.2 (18th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 15.6 (3rd)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Dwyane Wade (19.0)
  • Rebounds per game:  Chris Bosh (6.6)
  • Minutes per game:   Dwyane Wade (32.9)
  • Assists per game:  Mario Chalmers (4.9)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Chris Anderson (.644)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Chris Bosh (.910)
  • Three Point FG Percentage:   Mario Chalmers (.385)
  • Steals per game:   Mario Chalmers (1.6)
  • Blocked Shots per game:   Chris Anderson (1.3)
Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

  1. Danny Granger (F)
  2. Norris Cole (G)
  3. Chris Anderson (F/C)
  4. Udonis Haslem (F)
  5. Shannon Brown (G)
It was a short and wild ride, but after four years, four NBA Finals, two NBA Championships, a slew of Oscar nominations and three US Congressional Medals of Honor (the last two were made up, by the way), the +LeBron James era had ended almost right after it began.  Now the man who had almost lifted not only the Miami Heat, but all of Southern Florida to championship glory has returned to the place where he started his career leaving both the team and its city in virtual limbo; however, there have been no tears shed nor any hint of despair.  Instead of falling into straight disarray as the +Cleveland Cavaliers did the season when Lebron shattered the hopes and dreams of the city and its fans when he first left for the sunny shores of South Beach, Miami's front office, led by Pat Riley, went about business as usual.  He simply brushed of Lebron's departure, went about re-signing the two other cornerstones of the Heat's championship glory, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and acquired players who could compensate the massive loss of Lebron James by replacing with him another All Star forward in Loul Deng.   Riley also signed another veteran who at one time was a career All Star himself before injuries had deteriorated his abilities in Danny Granger, who despite his decline, can still remain a strong contributor either as a starter or coming off the bench.

Granted, both Deng and Granger will neither bring the superstar presence or have the impact that Lebron James had brought in his four years in Miami; however, they can be considered as a perfect stop gap measure on the part of Heat boss Pat Riley to both offset and compensate the King's departure.  Deng is a career 16 point, 6 rebound, 2 assist, and one steal per game player who is not only capable of scoring, but also like James, able to facilitate his teammates on offense while providing a strong presence on the boards.  And although Granger may no longer be able to put up his career averages of 17 points and five rebounds per game, if he can still give the solid contribution as he did last season in his short stint with the +Los Angeles Clippers, then both him and Deng have the potential of producing just about the same numbers that Lebron probably would have provided, provided that he stayed, of course.  Comparing their performances from last season, both Deng and Granger produced a combined  24 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and a little over one steal per game which is comparable to the numbers Lebron posted last season of 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists per game.  Nonetheless, despite what the numbers show, there is no way that Deng and Granger will ever replace the power and presence of the greatest basketball player of our time, but at least Heat fans will have the comfort in knowing that at least their team will not crash and burn the way that Cleveland dis way back when.

In fact with the players that they have now, one can in fact argue that Miami, if healthy and at full strength, still have the tool to give them a definite fighting chance to win the Eastern Conference, if not at least win their division earning them home court advantage in the playoffs.  Remember, this was a team that was not only a championship contender over the past four years because of  the sheer dominance of Lebron James, but also the fact that the Heat were one of the most imposing defensive teams in the league with its ability to force turnovers and follow up with quick baskets on the other end of the floor.  Theoretically, since the Heat overall have the same team as last season sans James as well as the few new additions to the roster, they can surely play with the same defensive intensity that allowed them to rank third in the league in turnovers forced, they can still finish win the same 54 games as they did last season even without Lebron.  Both new additions Deng and Granger have a very strong defensive acumen which can complement, if not enhance the already religious devotion to defense the Miami has already shown for the past four years and as long as that philosophy continues to hold true, the Heat could potentially be just as good as they were when James was still on the team.

With James gone, Bosh and Wade will certainly be taking the scoring load on the offensive end and will probably be even more potent scoring forces that they has been in previous years mainly because they will have more freedom to play their style of game instead of having to conform to Lebron's.  Bosh certainly knows about having to change his game in order to fit in better with that of the King's own as he had to completely overhaul his style of play going from a back to the basket post scorer he was while playing for the +Toronto Raptors, to that of a jump shooting pick and pop player; however, with Lebron gone, he will not only get more touches, but will also get the ball where he is more comfortable thus making him more effective.  Add the perimeter shooting he has developed over the past four years in his arsenal, Chris Bosh has the potential to be an even better play then he has ever been and will not only the Heat's primary offensive option, but also re-emerge as one of the top post players in the league.  The big question on everyone's minds is how Wade, who has spent the last four years riding on Lebron's coattails, will adjust to a player who enjoyed the luxury of having a player of James' caliber creating his offensive to having to do so himself?  At 32 years old and with his past history of injuries, Wade no longer has the explosive athleticism that made him one of the most sought after players in the league, yet at the same time, he is being paid as if he were; nonetheless, even without his former sugar daddy feeding him, Wade will still get his points, if not by Lebron, by the transition points caused by turnovers that his team will force.

Give Heat boss Pat Riley plenty of credit for keeping the ship together despite having his captain abandon it jumping over to another one because having lost one of the greatest players to have possibly ever play the game would have met certain disaster for other teams--just look at Cleveland!  He was figuratively handed lemons and used them to create lemonade ad he choose to move forward from the past as quickly as possibly by his locking down Wade and Bosh for the next few years and bringing in stop gap replacements in Deng and Granger.  What is more important about Riley's moves, however, are not that he ensured that Heat continue on its winning ways, but the fact that he has given his team enough financial flexibility by signing Deng to a relatively short term contract, in order to go after a possibly even bigger fish two years from now.  With the contracts of superstars such as +Kevin Durant+Russell Westbrook, +DeMarcus Cousins and +Dwight Howard expiring at the end of the 2017, Riley will have plenty of cap space to entice at least one of the players to take their talents to South Beach--especially with the salary cap increasing up to $80 million next season.  So to turn the perception of the Heat's cup being half full instead of being half empty,  Riley has turned the negative situation of having the greatest basketball player in the world leave him by creating a situation where he can get another superstar while at the same time keeping his team in championship contention.

Unfortunately it will not be as easy for the Heat as in previous years since the Eastern Conference has improved leaps and bounds with Lebron simply changing divisions instead of heading West as well a slew of up and coming teams that will give them trouble winning their own division let alone the Conference.  Both the +Washington Wizards and newly minted +Charlotte Hornets have both risen from perennial doormats in the East to elite powerhouses thanks to major off season moves such as the Hornets signing up and coming and future All Star Player in the making, Lance Stephenson as well as the Wizards being projected to go as far as second place in the Conference. Let us not forget the +Toronto Raptors, who look to use their franchise best 48 win season as a stepping stone for even greater things and playoff mainstays as the +Atlanta Hawks+Brooklyn Nets and +Chicago Bulls will look to keep their statuses as the conference's elite.  Even though it suffered a black eye last season, the prospects of the +New York Knicks have certainly improved thanks to the arrival of new President and CEO Phil Jackson and the impressive off season moves he too executed despite having absolutely no draft picks and no cap space.  Add in a potential spoiler in the +Milwaukee Bucks, who not only welcomed head coach +Jason Kidd, but also the second overall pick in last summer's draft +Jabari Parker, as well as the return of possibly one of the most tantalizing prospects in recent memory--6' 11" point guard +Giannis Antetokounmpo--the Heat will have plenty of hurdles it will have to cross in order to remain uptop the East.

Regardless of the appearances of new players and the strengthening of old foes, the Miami Heat will still remain a force in the league as they come into the upcoming regular season relatively unfazed after suffering one of the most significant losses in professional sports history.  Nothing and no one will ever replace Lebron James or can even hope to recreate the iconic four year period that had not been seen such unrivaled success in the the Heat's franchise history; however, no one can ever say that Miami simply allowed themselves to fall apart the moment Lebron decided to pack up and head back North to his home state of Ohio.  Many had been waiting for such a day when Riley would finally pay for his sins of forming what can be said as an immoral concoction of a championship squad, but it seems as if both he and his franchise will escape the wrathful clutches of karma.  The Heat will continue to not only survive, but also thrive as they will not only be a playoff contender this year, but for years to come and still remain in the NBA championship discussion, the same way that the +San Antonio Spurs has for the past decade or so.   Unfortunately, like the Spurs, Heat have the disadvantage of having a roster with a really advanced age and reaching four straight NBA Finals will finally take its tole and just wear the team down so much that it might just do what many have not only predicted but wished for and fall apart.