ESPN’s latest power rankings have Miami Heat stuck behind multiple teams they beat in 2023 NBA Playoffs

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The Miami Heat remain among the top five teams in the NBA in ESPN’s newest power rankings, but that leaves them as just the third-best team in the Eastern Conference behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.

The Heat, ranked No. 5, eliminated the Bucks and Celtics during the 2023 playoffs but are listed behind those two teams, who are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively.

“The Heat are in a holding pattern due to their interest in trading for Damian Lillard, who lists Miami as his lone preferred destination, prompting Portland general manager Joe Cronin to declare that a resolution to the All-NBA guard’s trade request could take months,” wrote Tim MacMahon of ESPN. “In the meantime, Miami lost a couple of key contributors to its NBA Finals run with the free agency departures of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent.”

The Heat were defeated in the Finals by the Denver Nuggets, who are No. 1 in the ESPN rankings. The Phoenix Suns are at No. 4 as the other Western Conference team in the top five.

Based on the playoff odds included in the rankings, the Heat, at +1800, are the longest shot to win the 2024 NBA Championship among the top eight teams.

Both the Bucks and Celtics are in transition, with Milwaukee now under first-year head coach Adrian Griffin and Boston adding Kristaps Porzingis but parting with Marcus Smart and Grant Williams.

Miami does have the advantage of competing with lesser teams in its Southeast Division, at least according to ESPN, which ranks the Atlanta Hawks (No. 18), Orlando Magic (No. 23), Charlotte Hornets (No. 27) and Washington Wizards (No. 29) all in the bottom half of the league.

The Heat are in the difficult position of trying to build their roster for the 2023-24 season while waiting on a seemingly reluctant trade partner in the Portland Trail Blazers, who, despite a request from Lillard, don’t seem to be in any rush to deal him to his desired landing spot.

Adding Lillard to form a Big 3 with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo likely would keep the Heat as title contenders, but the surrounding cupboard may be bare if they are forced to part with multiple players in a trade. Miami could choose a huge deal involving several players or stick to its plan of centering its proposal around Tyler Herro.

However the Lillard situation works itself out will likely be the determining factor in where the Heat wind up in the ESPN rankings during and after this season.

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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.