Playoff Result: Won NBA Finals
Key Additions: Chris Andersen (re-signed), Greg Oden (free agent)
Key Losses: Mike Miller (amnesty provision)
Predicted 2013-14 Record: 63-19 (1st in East)*
What to Expect: Miami will be looking to three-peat as NBA champions, something that hasn’t been done since the early 2000’s Lakers. At 28, LeBron James appears to keep getting better as he continues to work on the more technical aspects of the game. James will look to lead the league in PER for a 7th consecutive season, which would tie Michael Jordan for most consecutive seasons of leading the league in that stat.
However, despite being the favorites for the title again, Miami is starting to show some cracks in their armor. Both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh experienced injury problems for a second straight postseason, leading some to wonder if the two will be able to hold up for at least one more year. There’s no denying that Wade looked awful during the playoffs (TS% under .500), but with the injuries he had, it’s hard to say that performance is the new norm for him. Sure, he may have had his injury issues throughout the year, but he still managed to put up great stats during the regular season. If coach Erik Spoelstra can manage him minutes properly, Wade could continue to be the force that we’ve come to expect from him since he entered the league.
There is also the loss of Mike Miller, who in spite of his injury issues, played a huge role in spacing the floor in both title runs. The Heat will miss him a lot.
Speaking of injuries, I have no idea what to expect from Greg Oden. If he can be healthy enough to even be a small contributor for the playoffs, Miami could be an absolute monster of a team. If not, no harm, no foul.
However, there is no doubting LeBron James at this point. As long as he is lacing up for the Heat, you should expect them to be in the title-hunt.
Matchup with the Hawks: I see the Hawks in a weird place with this matchup. They went 0-4 against Miami last year and would seemingly get worse in losing their best LeBron-defender in Josh Smith. However, that may not exactly be the case. DeMarre Carroll is nowhere near the defender that Josh Smith is, but in this matchup, his sole assignment will likely be to guard James. The problem with Smoove guarding LeBron is that Josh was also the number one option on offense, meaning he would eventually tire down over the extreme responsibility and could be a liability on offense. With Carroll’s offensive contributions being limited, the loss on defense could actually be made up for by a slight-offensive gain.
Of course, the other matchup problem the Heat possess for the Hawks is Dwyane Wade… depending on how healthy Wade actually is. Of course, Wade’s likely counterpart during these games, Lou Williams, is coming off of an ACL surgery and we still have no idea how he will rebound. If Lou can manage to get back to his old self, the gap between the two might not be as large as it’s been in the past.
Now, the good news for the Hawks: Al Horford is the third best player between these two teams. (sorry, Chris Bosh) Not that Bosh is a lot worse, but Horford’s responsibilities have increased to a point it’s hard to compare the two; can Bosh do all the stuff that he used to in his Toronto days? Unlikely, meaning that Horford gets the nod here. Then after Bosh, you could easily argue the next four best players belong to the Hawks in Millsap, Teague, Korver, and Williams. (who’s the fourth best player on the Heat anyways? Chalmers? Ray Allen?)
Does that depth close the gap of the Heat having LeBron James on their team? Uh… not really. The Hawks should consider it a victory if they can take one game out of this season-series.
*predicted record based on my ESPN Forecast projections for every team