Ranking The Heat’s 5 Most Pivotal Games During the 2014-15 Season

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The Miami Heat embark on a new era in the 2014-15 season.

There are many new faces that have replaced the old ones. To go along with those new guys are some familiar names—players like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. The Heat will need both the old and the new to mesh well together as a unit in order to repeat their success of the last four seasons.

If Miami aspires to do just that, they’ll encounter a few tough road blocks along the way during the regular season. Unlike in prior seasons, the Heat don’t have the ‘Big Three’ to run roughshod over the competition, which means the team won’t have an easy path to the NBA Finals.

The upcoming season presents a lot of uncertainty for Heat Nation. These five regular season games should give fans a clear direction of where this team is heading in the near future.

Here are the Heat’s top five games for the 2014-15 season:

5. October 29 vs. Washington Wizards

Dwyane Wade vs. John Wall

This is where it all begins. For the third consecutive season, the Heat will open the regular season at American Airlines Arena. But unlike the prior two regular seasons, Miami won’t open the year as defending NBA Champions—they’ll open it as NBA Finals runner-ups. They will do so for the first time in five years without the best player in the game, LeBron James.

To make matters more challenging, the opener is against a divisional foe touted by many as the favorites to win the Southeast Division, the Washington Wizards. The Wizards are everything the Heat are not—young, media darlings, and they have a guard nucleus to die for. Both Bradley Beal and John Wall form one of the best backcourts the NBA has to offer, while Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat are a formidable duo in the paint. Heat nemesis Paul Pierce signed with the Wizards in the offseason so he could continue to face his favorite rivals four times a season.

Simply put, the Wizards are widely considered the dark horses of the Eastern Conference. The Heat have had an easy time winning the Southeast over the past four seasons, but 2015 looks to be more challenging. If Miami is to maintain supremacy in the division, they’ll have to make a statement on opening night by defeating their toughest challengers from within the divisional ranks.

4. April 9 vs. Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose Against Udonis Haslem
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In what will be a common trend on this list, the Heat’s matchup with the Chicago Bulls on April 9 will be yet another game versus an Eastern Conference foe projected to finish above Miami in the East by the time the regular season comes to a close.

This game will likely dictate whether that statement will come to fruition or not.

When the Heat host the Bulls in April, it will mark the 79th game of the regular season. If both teams are to remain East contenders, this game will go a long way towards determining playoff seeding. Chicago re-tooled their roster in the offseason, adding two-time NBA Champion Pau Gasol to the starting lineup, while getting rid of Carlos Boozer. Derrick Rose returns to the lineup healthy, while key cogs such as Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah are back.

Though this rivalry may have lost a bit of luster with James’ decision to return to Cleveland, keep this in mind—both teams have met in the postseason four times over the past nine years, and twice in the last four alone. No matter how dominant the Heat have been versus other opponents, the Bulls have always been a thorn in the Heat’s backside over the past decade.

3. February 11 at Cleveland Cavaliers

Chris Birdman Andersen Blocks Dion Waiters

The last game on the schedule for the Heat before the week-long All-Star break will be in Cleveland. It will mark the first time ‘The King’ hosts his former team after signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers this past July.

Though this will be the second time in the regular season that these two teams meet, it does not make this game any less important. Because of LeBron, any Heat-Cavaliers game will be worth paying attention to this season. Even when ignoring the storylines involving the four-time MVP, this game could very well be for Eastern Conference supremacy.

One a side note, this will also be Luol Deng’s return to Cleveland, as he played 40 games for the team last season.

2. February 6 at San Antonio Spurs

Chris Bosh versus Tim Duncan
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With the exception of Aron Baynes, the San Antonio Spurs return every player who played during the 2014 NBA Finals victory over the Heat. On the other side of the equation, Miami returns six of the 14 players who played during last year’s Finals.

Because of the two different directions both of these teams have headed in just a few months’ span, it makes this matchup even more important. Other than the story of redemption for the Heat avenging last year’s Finals loss, this game is pivotal because it represents a measuring stick of just how good the Heat really are without LeBron.

Miami will have played 49 games before visiting San Antonio, but the Spurs are at the top of the hierarchy in the NBA. If Heat fans want a good indication of whether the team will contend for a championship or not in 2015, this is the game you have to watch.

1. December 25 vs. Cleveland

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with their backs turned

Did you imagine it would be anything else? There’s a reason this one in Miami was placed in the marquee game slot of the year on Christmas Day.

There are many story lines in this one, mostly revolving around King James: Are the Cavs really better than the Heat with the new ‘Big Three’ trio of LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love? How will Heat fans greet James in his first game in Miami since leaving? Will Wade be able to get the better of his former teammate as they face off for the first time in five years?

We’ll receive the answers to all of these questions on what promises to be a magical Christmas Day.

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D.J. Siddiqi grew up in the heart of South Florida in Broward County. Growing up in South Florida during the late 90's and 2000's, D.J. witnessed the Pat Riley years where the Miami Heat faced off with the New York Knicks all the way to the painful late 2000's seasons where the Heat were a one-man team with Dwyane Wade. D.J. has closely followed the Heat over the past decade-and-a-half, and unfortunately witnessed Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals in person when the Dallas Mavericks overcame a 15-point deficit to knock off the Heat. D.J. has writing experience as a columnist with sites such as Bleacher Report and Rant Sports, and he is proud to bring his knowledge of the Heat and the NBA to Heat Nation.