The Miami Heat made a lot of headlines this summer in some bad ways, highlighted by their disappointing loss in the NBA Finals and losing LeBron James in free agency. They signed a few good rotation players like Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, and Luol Deng, but it will be very difficult to replace King James’s production. So difficult in fact, that many fans are writing the Heat off from contention in the weak Eastern Conference, declaring it a two man race to the finals between the Bulls and Cavaliers. But are these claims as accurate as we believe?
Miami inked Chris Bosh to a hefty contract this offseason, one that many believe he doesn’t deserve. It was a necessary move considering he was this close to leaving in free agency. He will be forced to move from 3rd wheel to alpha-dog status. Dwyane Wade and his infamous knees are one year older, which leaves many to wonder how much he has left in the tank. The Heat signed solid role-players as stopgaps, but don’t have anything planned for the long term. It’s safe to assume that they’re no longer the best team in their conference. But that doesn’t mean they’ll go down without a fight.
During the playoffs in a weak conference, anything can happen. The 8th seed Atlanta Hawks almost unseated the 1st seed Indiana Pacers. The Wizards shocked the world by pulling an upset against the supposedly superior Bulls. The Pacers even made it to the conference finals after suffering one of the worst setbacks in recent history, going from historically good to unbearably bad. So why would it be out of the question to see the Heat (who have obvious talent, veteran leadership, and long playoff run experience) pull an upset over one of the two supposed powerhouses?
Derrick Rose will return for the Bulls this season, but can his knees be trusted any more than Dwyane Wade’s?
The Cavaliers have a super-team on paper, but will the defensive shortcomings of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving be too much to overcome? Irving and Love have yet to play a single playoff game in their careers, and will be relied upon down the stretch. LeBron has carried his team to the finals before, but when his teammates play poorly, its usually too much to handle for the King.
Dwyane Wade was healthy for the playoffs last year, and played very well then (with the exception of his underwhelming finals performace). Chris Bosh is as versatile as ever and is still one of the most effective players on the court as a premier stretch 5. What many people seem to be forgetting is that the talent doesn’t stop there. Luol Deng is one of the best defensive forwards in the league, and was capable of putting up big numbers in Derrick Rose’s absence. Josh McRoberts was one of the best playmakers at his position, setting up teammates with his good vision and passes. There is good depth at the point guard position, and while rebounding remains a problem that LeBron will no longer mask with excellent offense, there’s enough in place here to make a serious push in what should still be considered a wide open conference.
It is still very hard to imagine the Eastern Conference Finals not consisting of the Cavs or the Bulls. Even in his MVP season, however, Rose was not able to take his team to the finals, and he’s obviously suffered a few setbacks since then. LeBron switches from one superteam to another, but this one is much different.
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade had already led their teams for 7 years before teaming up with the King. Dwyane Wade had already won a championship and was well on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer, and Bosh was putting up monstrous numbers in Toronto for several years. Yet the team with all three of those superstars in their physical primes and a plethora of role players was unable to win the championship.
Irving and Love are good, there’s no doubt about it, but they’re no Wade and Bosh. Wade is famous around the league (and in the record books) as an incredible defensive player, and Bosh led the Heat in blocks each year he played in Miami, while Irving and Love have become infamous for their porous defense and lack of effort on that end. Offense will win you games, but defense wins championships.
I’m not saying that I’m predicting the Heat to win the East, or even saying that it’s likely. I’m simply saying that there are many people out there writing the Heat off as contenders this year, and that they seriously need to reconsider. Worst case scenario, the Heat enjoy only moderate success and leave the playoffs in the first round. Best case scenario, they make it to the Conference Finals and pull the upset against the conference favorite. The new-look Cavaliers are the new recipients of the league-wide target on their backs, and the Heat have their eyes set on keeping the Eastern Conference throne to themselves.