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How Accurate are the 2014-2015 Projections for the Miami Heat?

How Accurate are the 2014-2015 Projections for the Miami Heat?

When the Miami Heat open the regular season to take on the Washington Wizards on October 29th, they’ll have a new look.

Gone are the days of LeBron James dunking on fast breaks. Gone are the days of media conglomerates such as ESPN placing a daily focus on the Heat due to the popularity of the ‘Big Three.’ More importantly, gone are the days of the Heat’s clear superiority and dominance over the rest of the Eastern Conference.

The 2014-15 season for the Heat will be one of the most pivotal seasons in franchise history. It will be the most important single season in Dwyane Wade’s career. The same statement holds true for Chris Bosh.

After four dominant seasons in which the ‘Big Three’ trio of LeBron, Wade and Bosh led the Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two championships, James took his talents elsewhere. What does that exactly mean for the Heat? What does it mean for the legacies and reputation of players such as Bosh and Wade? What does LeBron’s departure mean to head coach Erik Spoelstra? And more importantly, how does it affect the Heat as an entire team?

All of these questions have been pondered by the media. Because the season has yet to start, the LeBron-less Heat won’t have an opportunity to begin to answer these questions until October 29th. These question marks surrounding the Heat in the post-LeBron era have led to lowered expectations for the Heat in the upcoming season.

The question is, are the media’s lowered expectations of the Heat justified? Or are pundits overreacting in the aftermath of the four-time NBA MVP leaving Miami for the Cleveland Cavaliers? Let’s take a look at how some are predicting the Heat’s fortunes in the upcoming ’14-15 season.

The Media’s View on The Heat….is Low

Just days after LeBron announced he was signing with the Cavaliers, CBS Sports’ James Herbert seeded the new-look Eastern Conference. In said article, Herbert listed the Cavs as the No. 1 team in the conference, while the Heat were ranked as the fifth-best team in the East. It is worth nothing that the Indiana Pacers are ranked No. 2 in this article. Pacers star forward Paul George suffered a severe injury in a Team USA scrimmage following the publication of this article. So it is likely the Heat would be moved up a spot in these standings if the article were published today, given that George will likely miss the entire ’14-15 season.

Having said that, the Heat are still projected to be the fourth or fifth-best team, according to Herbert. The Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors are other teams seeded above the Heat in Herbert’s rankings.

In what seems like Déjà vu, ESPN also predicts the Heat to be a middle power amongst the playoff teams in the East next season. According to ESPN’s forecast panel, the Heat will finish sixth in the Eastern Conference, ranking below teams such as the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards. The Heat are projected to finish with 44 wins, 10 wins less than what they achieved during the ’13-14 season. This is a considerably low number seeing as how the East’s best regular season team from last year — the Pacers — will likely regress next season. ESPN projects the Miami Heat as the 6th best seed

CBS Sports and ESPN’s opinions of the Heat tend to be the general opinion of what people expect from Miami heading into the near future. But what are the exact reasons for why sentiment is low for the defending Eastern Conference champions?

Very Little Confidence in Wade and Bosh to Successfully Lead the Heat

Quite simply put, pundits do not believe the Heat can succeed as a championship-contending team without ‘The King.’ Which means that people don’t believe in the abilities of Wade and Bosh to lead Miami. Wade is four years removed since the last time he was considered the best player on a roster, while it’s been five years since Bosh was a go-to option while a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Much of the doubt surrounding the Heat is due to the concern of Wade’s ability to remain healthy. The 32-year-old shooting guard played in just 54 regular season games last year. Despite being held out in many games to preserve his body, Wade struggled in the postseason, which led to the San Antonio Spurs handing the Heat a 4-1 series defeat. While LeBron did his part in the 2014 NBA Finals, averaging 28.2 points per game on .571 shooting from the field, the same cannot be said for Wade. ‘Flash’ averaged just 15.2 PPG on .438 shooting. In spite of resting during the regular season, D3 looked old and tired during the postseason.

While Bosh’s game has improved tremendously over the last four years in Miami — he’s a capable three-point shooter after knocking down 74 treys last season — the fact remains that the 30-year-old big man has never led an NBA team past the first round of the playoffs. While in Toronto, CB4 led the Raptors to just two playoff berths in seven seasons as the No. 1 option. The 6’11” forward/center has spent the last four seasons as a mid-range catch-and-shoot specialist due to the offense running through James. In the absence of LeBron, Bosh likely becomes the go-to option after spending the last four seasons as the No. 3 option in the offense. That will be no light task.

While the critics certainly have their ammunition for doubting the Heat in 2015, is there reason to believe the Heat are still contenders in a conference lacking many great teams? Is it possible people are overestimating the impact that LeBron’s departure will have on the ’14-15 Heat?

The Media Has Exaggerated the Heat’s Decline

With the exception of LeBron, the retired Shane Battier, and the possible retirement/departure of Ray Allen, the Heat return every member of the 2014 rotation entering next season. This includes players such as Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Pat Riley has also added free agents such as Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger and Shannon Brown to offset the firepower lost with the departure of James.

Outside of the aforementioned reasons for the media’s doubts with the Heat, many point to the 2010-11 Cavaliers team as an example of how much of an effect LeBron has on his teams. That season marked the first year of the Cavs in the post-LeBron era. It was a season in which the Cavs finished with a 19-63 record, just a year after totaling 61 wins.

Do not expect similar results in Miami. Outside of the leadership of two players who have been faces of NBA franchises in the past, the Heat retain one of the deeper rotations in the East. Spoelstra also returns as head coach and his reputation as a defensive-minded coach will only aid in the Heat without a dominant offensive force carrying the load. The East also remains a weak conference. While much is expected of the Cavaliers, with the exception of ‘The King,’ the team has no proven commodities in the postseason. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters have never played in the postseason in their NBA careers. The high expectations of the Bulls are dependent on an aging 34-year-old center in Pau Gasol and an injury-plagued point guard in Derrick Rose, who hasn’t played in a full season since 2011.

James carried the Heat through many bad stretches last season, and made the team look better than it was due to his versatility. However, the entire team — especially Wade and Bosh — will be more motivated than ever to lead the Heat back to the NBA Finals.

While this year’s team will lack the flash and firepower of yesteryear, Spoelstra will implement an offensive and defensive system that will maximize the abilities of Miami’s current roster. The media’s projection of the Heat as the fifth or sixth-best team in the East is downright laughable. Expect the Heat to remain division champions and be contenders for the No. 1 seed in the East by season’s end.

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