The manner in which the Miami Heat finished last season gave rise to the hope that it would serve as momentum for a strong 2017-18 season. However, the overall strength of the Eastern Conference has ESPN offering a more measured response with their prediction of a sixth-seed finish for Erik Spoelstra‘s squad.
The network’s final regular-season prediction shows an improvement of three games to 44-38, compared to the 41-41 campaign in 2016-17. In the latter case, it was a tale of two seasons marked by an injury-plagued first half that resulted in an 11-30 mark at the midway point. However, a complete reversal during the second half saw a 30-11 finish that resulted in a near-miss in connection with the postseason.
That record would allow the Heat to reach the playoffs, with ESPN noting that the last time the Heat missed the postseason in consecutive years was 2002 and 2003. It also noted that the longest stretch in team history for a playoff drought has been three years.
Should the sixth-seed prediction pan out, the Heat would face the Washington Wizards in this hypothetical scenario. Listed below are the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference, along with their projected records:
1. Boston Celtics, 54-28
2. Cleveland Cavaliers, 52-30
3. Washington Wizards, 49-33
4. Milwaukee Bucks, 47-35 (tie)
4. Toronto Raptors, 47-35 (tie)
6. Miami Heat, 44-38
7. Charlotte Hornets, 42-40
8. Philadelphia 76ers, 37-45 (tie)
8. Detroit Pistons, 37-45 (tie)
The Heat will get their 2017-18 season underway on Oct. 18, when they travel to face their in-state rival Orlando Magic. Three nights later, they’ll play their home-opener against the Indiana Pacers. That contests at American Airlines Arena will get underway at 8 p.m.