Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra (6th season as Head Coach)
Regular Season Team MVP: LeBron James
First Round Opponent: Charlotte Bobcats
Regular Season Series vs Bobcats: Heat won 4-0
Despite limping through March and April, the Heat remains the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. They’ve struggled with consistency all year – chalk it up to boredom, experience or keeping their eyes on the ultimate prize. But this is a team that should have performed better than their record indicates. Miami has dropped some inexcusable losses to sub-.500 teams and yet still was competing for the top spot in the East until the last week of the season. Now that the final seeding has been determined, the Heat has to muster that drive and motivation – “flip the switch” as it has been referred to for years – to push them through the postseason.
Strengths: LeBron James. Over-simplistic, perhaps, but the best player in the world (even if not this season’s MVP) is their greatest strength. When motivated – and sometimes even when he’s not – he can do it all and make it look easy. His outside shooting is erratic this season (around 38%, down from last season’s career-high 41%) and he can lazily fall in love with the 3-pointer. But he’s still LeBron. The team is very deep and Dwyane Wade (looking rested and at full-strength) and Chris Bosh are still among the top 15 players in the NBA. And it can’t be overlooked that Miami’s experience in the postseason (understanding the nuances of the playoffs) is superior to any team in the NBA. Three straight trips to the NBA Finals is a testament to this team’s talent and knowing how to close out a series.
Weaknesses: Ah, but those long postseason runs could also be their most glaring problem as well. Miami has just got to be tired at this point. Whether they coasted through the regular season or not is moot; they’ve played more games over a four-year stretch than any other team. The fatigue factor – physically and mentally – could derail their quest for a “three-peat.” Basic weaknesses for the defending champs include rebounding woes, a tendency to miss defensive rotations and give up long-range shooting and a dependence on James to initiate the offense. Still, these have been the same problems since the “Big Three” era began and it hasn’t really slowed them down.
Playoff Ceiling: This team has been the odds-on favorite to win the title all season. They are definitely capable of winning the NBA Championship.
What Will Happen: A third consecutive parade along downtown Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard. But with a caveat – if San Antonio reaches the Finals, they’ll win the rematch against Miami.