The Miami Heat are looking to return to a place they are used to. … the playoffs.
Miami missed out of the postseason last season because of a tiebreaker, even after winning 30 of its final 41 games to finish .500.
The Heat liked what they saw that second half and are gambling that by bringing back the core of that team and adding a couple of big men will take them up a couple of notches.
Here are my predictions for the season:
Hassan Whiteside will be an All-Star: Whiteside averaged 17.0 points and a league leading 14.1 rebounds last year and did not make the All-Star team. Since 1975, 20 players have averaged at least 17 points and 14 rebounds and 18 have All-Stars that season. Whiteside is one of those who was not. He was not among the eight different players who received at least one vote each by the league’s GMs when they were asked to name the top centers. The good news: All eight were from the Western Conference. Whiteside won’t get voted in because of a format in which centers are lumped in with forwards, but the coaches will reward him.
Pat Riley will pull the trigger on a trade: The Heat have stocked piled several assets with reasonable contracts that could be moved for a disgruntled star. Riley is not sitting idly by if someone becomes available around the deadline. Look for some combination of at least two of the following players – Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson – to be moved.
Kelly Olynyk will put up career highs: The Heat’s new $50 million man has not had a whole lot of run in his first four years with Boston, averaging a little more than 20 minutes a game. That number will increase and be much closer to 30, especially if coach Erik Spoelstra decides to start Olynyk. Look for the versatile big to surpass his career averages of 9.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists.
The Heat will finish second behind Golden State in defensive rating: Miami was one of the top defensive teams in the league last season by every measure, even while the team was struggling for wins. The Heat’s rating was 104.1, fifth in the league and they allowed 102.1 points per game, also fifth. Now, this group has a year together, they are long and versatile and have players who can defend in the post and on the perimeter. And Whiteside is among the best erasers down low. The lone starter that has moved on, Luke Babbitt, was a defensive liability.
The Heat will win 45 games and finish sixth in the East (barely): The East clearly has two classes and the Heat are among those teams in the upper echelon. Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington are at the top followed by Milwaukee, Miami, Charlotte and possibly Philadelphia and Detroit. The Heat certainly have a chance at finishing fifth, and if everything goes right possibly moving up to the No. 4 seed. But look for Miami to fall in behind Milwaukee, finish the season tied with Charlotte and this time win that tiebreaker and grab that all important No. 6 seed, which likely means avoiding Cleveland and Boston in the first round.