2018 NBA Playoff Preview: Miami Heat
Even though Vegas had the Miami Heat correctly slotted as the 6th seed at the beginning of the season, I still think they are a surprise team. They completely flipped the script on the “Big 3” model that won them two titles. Instead of sporting a top-heavy roster, they just throw 10 guys at you that are all solid. While teams are clamoring to get a superstar or two, the Heat just keep reloading and competing for the playoffs.
The Heat lost Mr. Irrational Confidence, Dion Waiters, in late December to a season-ending ankle injury but didn’t really miss a beat. That’s the beauty of having a balanced roster. No single injury can derail the season. The Heat used a balanced attack on offense along with a top-10 defense to snag 44 wins. Goran Dragic made his first All-Star team (and won me a bet). Josh Richardson continued to make strides as a legitimate two-way threat. Newcomers Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo became effective enough to drop Hassan Whiteside to 25.3 minutes per game and cause him to drop an expletive-filled rant after a OT loss to the Nets. Oh yeah, they got Dwyane Wade back too.
Biggest Strength: Depth
While teams are usually happy to shorten their rotations during playoff time, the Heat will look to use their 10-deep rotation to their advantage. Miami had eight different players that averaged double figures in points this season. It’s tough to prepare for a team that doesn’t have a clear-cut number one option. Anyone from Dragic to Wade to Wayne Ellington can go off an any given night. On defense, they have enough bodies with Richardson, James Johnson, and Justise Winslow, to throw at Ben Simmons and give him different looks. Their center rotation of Whiteside, Adebayo, Olynyk can slow down a masked Embiid, or at least hack him 18 times.
Biggest Weakness: Lack of a go-to scorer
I know this may seem to be a lazy job interview trope, but the Heat’s biggest strength is also their biggest weakness. It’s great to have a deep roster, but the lack of a top end is concerning. In the playoffs, you need a guy that can just go get you a bucket. The Heat don’t necessarily have that guy. Goran Dragic can still penetrate a bit, but he hasn’t been finishing at the rim as well as he used to. Wayne Ellington is a knock down shooter, but he needs a bevy of screens to get open. Dwyane Wade has the pedigree, but does he still have the legs at this point in his career?
Team’s X-Factor: Coaching
The NBA is a player’s league. But in the playoffs, coaching becomes crucial. Brett Brown is a great coach, but he’s getting his first taste of the postseason with a roster with very little playoff experience. Erik Spoelstra is playoff-tested, and he has a multitude of weapons at his disposal to deploy against the Simmons and Embiid. If the Heat have a chance to upset the more talented Sixers, it’s gonna come from Spoelstra’s ability to make adjustments from game to game.
Player to Watch: Kelly Olynyk
It’s hard to pick just one under the radar player because outside of Wade, the Heat’s whole roster is under the radar. Olynyk has been a nice pickup for the Heat. He’s a high IQ player that does a bit of everything. He had the highest +/- on the roster this season: the Heat outscored teams by 233 points while he was on the floor. He has playoff experience with Boston and provides good floor spacing. If Joel Embiid has to miss more than a game or two, Philly might run more small ball which means the Heat will go with Olynyk over Whiteside in crunch time.
Estimated Playoff Run:
Joel Embiid’s availability will be a big factor in this series. Even if he does play, Whiteside outplayed him in their last meeting. Whiteside put up 26 points and 8 rebounds versus Embiid’s 17 and 7 in a Heat win. If the Heat can get a locked in Whiteside, that bodes well for them. While I like the Heat’s chances of pulling the upset, I still think the Sixers win in six or seven games. However, if the Heat can get past the first round, they’d have a decent chance of making the Eastern Conference Finals against the injury plagued Celtics or the inconsistent Bucks.