Bullets Fever

A blog and community website for the Washington Wizards and their fans.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Analyzing the Competition

It's safe to say that few championship teams had a stranger preceeding 12 months than the Miami Heat. After a heartbreaking 7 game loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Detroit Pistons in 2005, executive Pat Riley took the unprecedented step of overhauling the team. Gone were Damon Jones, Eddie Jones, Rasual Butler, and Stan Van Gundy (eventually). In their place came Jason Williams, James Posey, Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, and Riley. Experts acknowledged the increased talent level, but wondered aloud why the Heat would blow up a team that was a few points and (arguably) a Dwayne Wade injury away from the finals. After struggling at points through a 52 win season, these experts' opinions seem to be vindicated, especially after a difficult 6 game series against the clearly inferior Chicago Bulls. After getting blown out at home in Game 1 against New Jersey, the Heat suddenly flipped a long-lost switch. Wade showed his superstar quality, the role players finally filled their roles, and the Heat ran all the way to an NBA title, defeating playoff favorites Detroit and Dallas along the way. Now, with the same team back from last year, the Heat have to be considered a threat to repeat their title performance.

Additions: None
Subtractions: None

The Heat are the rare championship team that returns completely intact. Alonzo Mourning re-signed with the team after being wooed by San Antonio, Gary Payton decided to come back for one more year, and Riley, after a long period of deliberation, is back as well. It speaks to the cohesivness of the Heat that none of their players bolted when the money called over the offseason.

Of course, this also speaks to the veteran nature of the team, which is probably going to end up being Miami's Achilles Heel. Other than Wade, who should become an MVP favorite this season, and Udonis Haslem, the core of Miami's team is old. Shaq is going to be 35 this season, and all indications are that he was out of shape entering training camp. Antoine Walker, James Posey, Jason Williams, Mourning, and Payton are all 29 or older. We can't really expect those players to put up career seasons at this point considering their ages.

Ultimately, the regular season doesn't matter much for Miami. They could have sleepwalked to a top 3 finish last year, and considering that their toughest competition, Detroit, lost one of their top players in the offseason, the Heat should not worry about falling out of the top seeds in the East. This is a veteran club, so I'm not too concerned that they will suddenly lose the motivation to win.

But will they win the title? Let's consider their playoff run last year. They benefited from playing a Pistons team that was completely out of gas in order to even get to the NBA Finals. While Miami certainly played well to win that series, the Pistons certainly didn't offer much competition. Had Detroit not fallen into a sudden offensive funk in the playoffs, we may not even be talking about Miami. Then, in the finals, the Heat needed a superhuman effort from Wade, with a little help from the referees, to defeat Dallas. Again, while I'm not saying Miami didn't play well, the result could have been very different in that series.

In the end, I think Miami will have a similar season to last year. Any drop-offs from the veterans should be made up by the continued maturation of Wade. I expect Wade to carry the Heat like LeBron James carried Cleveland last year. The injury to Williams is troublesome, but it may end up giving the Heat more depth than they had come playoff time last year.

However, I don't expect them to win the title. Someone will run circles around them and knock them out in the Eastern Conference Finals or in the NBA Finals. I'd say look elsewhere to find your 2007 NBA Champion.

Projected Record: 53-29

Crazy From the Heat previewed Miami for the NBA Blog Previews and predicts a 54 win season, but he won't go out on a limb and predict a repeat.

Here goes that three letter word again…The one that’ll be synonymous with Miami all season long…A-G-E.

All of us can remember a situation in most any sport where one of the great ones fell victim to “father time”. Obviously it’s one thing to play injured, knowing in the back of your mind that soon enough you’ll be back to form…But it’s another story when you’re facing opposition every single night that’s bigger, quicker, stronger, and last longer.

He goes on to say that he hopes the Heat can use their experience to outsmart their faster opponents once again, but is unsure whether this will actually happen. I'm with him on this concern. I'm not sure Miami will be able to outsmart their opponents in a league that benefits the quicker players more and more each year.

Think I screwed this one up? Let me know. How many wins do you think Miami will have this year?

Back Wednesday with my season preview for the NBA Blog Previews.

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