Saturday, February 21, 2009

How Much of a Threat are the Miami Heat?

It's past the All-Star weekend and fans begin to ask themselves a few questions: Where do we go from here? Will we make the playoffs? How deep will we go? And many other related questions about how their team will do down the stretch.

The Miami Heat came from the mid-season break with a record of 28-24, along with a 1-1 record in their first two games after the break. With 28 games left in the season, let's review each month and predict what the Heat's record, playoff seed, and playoff contention will be.

February Schedule Predictions

In the remainder of the month of February there are four key games that are all of importance to the Heat. Here they are:

Sun 22 @ Orlando
Tue 24 vs Detroit
Fri 27 @ Atlanta
Sat 28 vs New York

The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks are in the Southeast Division (which the Miami Heat are a part of, of course) are will be key match-ups for the Heat if they hope to go up the standings. I believe the Miami Heat have a good chance of winning both games and breaking even at worst. As for the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks, they will be extremely distinct match-ups, but equally difficult - Detroit is a defensive-minded, hustle-play kind of team, while New York is a run-and-gun team under the command of Mike D'Antoni. In essence, the Heat can come off the final four games of February with a 3-1 or 2-2 record, although a 4-0 winning streak is a potential result as well.

March Schedule Predictions
Looking forward to March, where a brunt of the final games will be played (16 total), the Heat have a tough road ahead as they hope to succeed into the playoffs. It won't be an easy task, as 9 out of the 16 teams they will play are over .500 and most are Eastern Conference rivals. At any rate, the Heat have already defeated elite teams, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, and Phoenix Suns. The problem with the Heat is their sporadic play and lack of consistency. The have not had a definitive winning streak this entire season, which could hurt them in the playoffs, when win streaks are paramount. Here's the March schedule:

Mon 02 vs Cleveland
Wed 04 vs Phoenix
Fri 06 @ Toronto
Sat 07 @ Cleveland
Mon 09 vs Chicago
Wed 11 vs Boston
Sat 14 vs Utah
Sun 15 @ Philadelphia
Wed 18 @ Boston
Fri 20 @ New Jersey
Sun 22 @ Detroit
Mon 23 vs Memphis
Wed 25 @ Indiana
Thu 26 @ Chicago
Sat 28 vs Milwaukee
Mon 30 vs Orlando

My predictions for March are somewhere between 10 and 12 wins. I believe that Jermaine O'Neal will settle into the Heat system by March and will begin to play more cohesively with "Wade and Company." The rebound disparity will begin to diminish and tough games will become close games. In double match-ups versus the Cavs and Celts, the Heat have the potential of coming away with one win in each series. They have not beat the Celts yet this season, but are capable of stealing one in March with O'Neal matching up versus Kevin Garnett.

April Schedule Predictions
To finish off the regular season, the month of April brings eight crucial games that will probably determine the Heat's playoff seed and playoff potential. Here's the schedule:

Wed 01 @ Dallas
Fri 03 @ Charlotte
Sat 04 @ Washington
Tue 07 vs New Orleans
Fri 10 @ Boston
Sun 12 vs New York
Tue 14 @ Atlanta
Wed 15 vs Detroit

As you can see, Dallas, New Orleans, Boston, Atlanta, and Detroit are five out of the eight teams that the Heat will play. It's a difficult way to end the regular season, but I'm sure the Heat can survive with at least a 4-4 record coming away from April. Charlotte and Washington are must wins, for the simple reason that they are not at the same caliber as the Heat. Many things can happen from now until April, and the team's performance will be determined by their success or failure up to that point. If they're "hot" then maybe they will be motivated to beat those elite teams. If they're "cold," then they may tumble down the standings to a 6th or 7th seed. Let's hope the latter is not the case.

Playoff Seed Prediction
With Orlando not showing any signs of slowing down, even with Jameer Nelson out (Rafer Alston is a worthy replacement) the 3rd seed seems a bit out of reach for the Heat. I don't see a late season collapse from Orlando, like they had last season, thus a 4th seed would be a reasonable goal. I'm not closing the door on the possibility for the Heat grabbing the #3 spot, but I'm not about to depend on another team's demise to rely on the Miami Heat's success.

Atlanta is a team within striking distance and a beatable foe down the stretch. They might have given the Boston Celtics problems in the first round of the 2008 NBA playoffs, but they aren't the same team anymore. I expect Miami to pass Atlanta in the standings and take control of that 4th seed in the end. There's no doubt that the spot will be up for grabs for quite a while, with so many teams within a couple games of each other, but I have confidence that you'll see the "Flaming Ball Logo" next to the 4th seed come April's end.

Playoff Predictions
Based on my prediction of a 4th seed, the Heat have far greater chances of passing the first round, than if they were a lower seed. Obviously, nobody wants to play Orlando or Cleveland in the first round (Boston will probably hold the #1 spot and play the #8 spot - a seed I doubt the Heat will hold). Thus, I predict Miami will make it to the second round at least and have a fighting chance at a third round appearance. Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals are places that I'd love to see the Heat in, but given the dominance of the Cavs and Celts, I'd be pushing it to predict such a thing.

Final Note
The Miami Heat have some growing up and bonding to do in the second half of the regular season if they hope to have in impact in the post-season. I believe O'Neal will feel rejuvenated to be a part of the Miami Heat and begin to play a big role in the Heat's success. I'm only one man and my crystal ball is probably worth crap, but I have faith in the Heat to turn a 15-win season into an exciting playoff-thrilled success story in 2009.

The conservative final prediction I have for the second half is a record of 16-12, putting their total record at 45-37. As for my ideal prediction of the second half, I'd say the Heat go 20-8 and finish the season at 49-33. We'll see which of these predictions are the closest to the truth come April 15th.

No comments:

Image Disclaimer

The photos used on this site are not the property of Miami Sports Generation, unless otherwise defined by our logo. The rightful owners of these photos deserve all the credit for their work.