Bill Simmons says the Miami Heat are ‘the alpha’ in the Eastern Conference right now

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Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Despite an uneven start to the season by the Miami Heat, Bill Simmons said he remains confident that they are the “safest bet” to again represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

On the most recent episode of his podcast, Simmons brought up the Heat in the context of the Milwaukee Bucks’ loss to the Indiana Pacers in the semifinals of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament on Thursday. In that game, Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton scored 27 points and handed out 15 assists, something the Heat likely would not have allowed, according to Simmons.

“If I had to bet on a team, I would bet on Miami,” he said. “I think they’re the safest bet in the conference, I really do. I think they have two top-20 guys in the league. They know who they are. If they played Indiana today, they’re not letting that Haliburton thing happen, not in that stage.

“I just think that’s the alpha in the East right now. They made the Finals last year. I don’t think they’re worse. I think they’re actually more interesting than they were last year in a lot of ways.”

After the Bucks acquired Damian Lillard in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers this offseason – and prevented the Heat from doing so – Milwaukee is considered to be one of the top favorites to win the Eastern Conference and reach the 2024 NBA Finals, along with the Boston Celtics. Miami’s failure to land another star – specifically Jrue Holiday or Bradley Beal – to team with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo was thought to hinder its chances to return to the Finals.

But despite some early season injuries to Tyler Herro, Caleb Martin and others, the Heat do remain threats in the conference. At their best, they have shown they are capable of a seven-game winning streak and victories in nine out of 10 games during a stretch in November.

They are struggling lately, with just two wins in their past six games. The recent slide has coincided with absence of Adebayo.

The outstanding play of rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. was cited as one of the reasons the Heat will remain successful. Simmons also speculated that Miami will make a trade at some point during the season to improve its chances.

It is indeed wise not to rule out a team that advanced to the Finals last season as the No. 8 seed in the conference and has reached the conference finals three times in the past four seasons.

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has covered the NBA for almost three decades. His introduction to the business included the legendary Heat-Knicks rivalry from the 1990s.