15 Bold Predictions for Miami Heat

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

15 Bold Predictions for Miami Heat

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    The Heat face an uphill battle in their quest to three-peat.
    The Heat face an uphill battle in their quest to three-peat.Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    The rest of the NBA should be on high alert in 2013-14, as the Miami Heat are deeper than they've been at any point during the Big Three era.

    Back in 2010-11, the first season of the Big Three, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh led the team in terms of minutes played. James Jones, Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas ranked fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively, in terms of playing time.

    This year, the Heat will trot out James, Wade, Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem as starters, with Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley, Chris "Birdman" Andersen and Greg Oden waiting in the wings. Their second unit could legitimately be better than the Philadelphia 76ers' starting lineup.

    In case you're wondering why Miami is the favorite to win its third straight NBA championship, there you have it. Insane amounts of depth plus three top-20 players typically equals greatness.

    Strange things happen in today's NBA, though. All it takes is one fluke play to transform a championship contender into an afterthought (just ask the 2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder).

    With that in mind, check out these 15 bold predictions for the 2013-14 Miami Heat.

    Note: Remember, these are bold predictions. Seeing as the Heat are the odds-on favorite to win the 2014 championship, it's not bold to predict that they're going to three-peat this season. Nor is it bold to predict that LeBron will lay waste to the rest of the league en route to his fifth regular-season MVP. Consider yourself forewarned, Miami faithful.

1. Chris Bosh Will Be Miami's Second-Best Player

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    Since the dawning of the Miami Heat's Big Three era, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have unquestionably been the team's two best players, respectively.

    In 2013-14, Chris Bosh will usurp Wade for that No. 2 spot.

    Considering that Wade's battled through knee problems in each of the past two postseasons, the Heat need to keep him as fresh as possible for April and beyond. With Ray Allen and James Jones waiting in the wings, Miami has the depth to buy Wade some rest.

    Assuming Wade drops down to roughly 32-34 minutes per night, that's going to open opportunities for other players to step up and fill the void. Bosh will be best-positioned to do so.

    If there's one major concern for Miami (besides health) heading into the season, it's how it'll handle opponents with a size advantage, such as Brooklyn, Indiana and Chicago. The Heat can't expect to survive the Eastern Conference again if they're routinely punished on the glass.

    Unless Greg Oden is healthy enough to play regular minutes, Miami will need Bosh to man the middle. This should be the year when Bosh gets back to looking like the 20-10 player he was in Toronto, ending all doubt about his place as a member of the Big Three.

2. Michael Beasley Will Be This Year's Ray Allen

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Without Ray Allen, the narrative for the 2012-13 Miami Heat squad would be far different.

    It was Allen who miraculously resurrected their championship hopes with one of the most, if not the most, clutch shot in NBA history. As great as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were, they desperately needed Allen's ancillary help to push them over the title hump.

    This year, Michael Beasley will be that X-factor for the Heat.

    It's only been five years since there was a legitimate debate between Beasley and Derrick Rose as the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft. In his one season at Kansas State, Beasley averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and 37.9 percent from three-point range.

    Obviously, based on his career NBA averages of 44.7 percent shooting, 14.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, he hasn't panned out as expected in the NBA. By rejoining the Heat, however, he's entering the best possible situation for his thus-far disappointing career.

    The pressure of being a former No. 2 pick should be off his shoulders playing alongside James, Wade, Bosh and Ray Allen. As long as he sticks to his role as the Heat's primary scorer off the bench, Beasley will look like a completely revitalized player this year.

3. LeBron James Will Set a Career Low in Minutes Played

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Throughout LeBron James' 10-year NBA career, he's never played fewer than 37.5 minutes per game in a single season, per Basketball Reference.

    This year, he's going to smash his career low by averaging fewer than 36 minutes per game.

    Heat coach Erik Spoelstra knows that James has accumulated significant wear on his tires since joining Miami. That's what three straight trips to the Finals and an Olympic gold medal will do to a guy.

    Considering the immense depth the Heat tout on their bench this year, Spoelstra doesn't need to play LeBron 38-40 minutes per night in the regular season. Assuming Michael Beasley can hold the fort for 15-20 minutes each game, LeBron could be staring at his first-ever sub-36-minute-per-game season. 

    That could have dramatic ramifications for the MVP race and the Heat's chase for the No. 1 seed in the East, both of which we'll touch upon later. But if an NBA championship is the top priority for Miami this year, buying LeBron rest in the regular season should pay dividends later. 

4. Greg Oden Will Play in 40-Plus Games

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    Given the state of Greg Oden's knees, saying he'll play in at least 40 regular-season games might be my boldest prediction yet.

    The Miami Heat, desperate for some size in the middle, brought in the former No. 1 overall pick on a one-year, league-minimum contract this summer. If he's able to stay healthy, his presence could prove critical in the playoffs against Indiana's Roy Hibbert, Chicago's Joakim Noah or Brooklyn's Brook Lopez.

    Oden told Brian Windhorst of ESPN that a "big deciding factor" in his choice of Miami was team officials telling him that he "wouldn't be needed as much early in the season." Essentially, they'll allow him to progress on his own timetable, not pushing him to get out on the court before he's fully physically ready.

    And less than two weeks before the start of the season, Oden's return to live action remains very much a work in progress. After going through his first full practice with the team on Oct. 14, he experienced swelling in his left knee, per Windhorst, and was held out of two subsequent practices.

    The odds of him being ready for opening night are slim to none, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told The Miami Herald that Oden is actually "ahead of schedule" in his recovery. The Heat won't push Oden to return too quickly, but don't be surprised to see him regularly playing in 10- to 15-minute bursts over the second half of the season.

5. Miami Will Lead the League in Made Three-Pointers

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    After falling to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat began building their roster around three-point shooting.

    In 2013-14, that strategy will pay off in dividends, as the team will lead the league in made three-point field goals.

    The Heat recognize that floor-spacers are the best way to maximize the abilities of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Having legitimate three-point threats positioned at the corners prevents opponents from packing the paint, opening driving lanes for Wade, James and others.

    Miami finished third in the league last year in terms of made threes (717), sixth in three-point attempts (1,809) and second in three-point field-goal percentage (.396), per Basketball Reference. The team attempted 28.5 percent of its field goals from three-point range, which ranked fifth in the league.

    The New York Knicks, who finished first in made threes, are due for some regression to the mean with Steve Novak gone and J.R. Smith temporarily sidelined. The Golden State Warriors will be Miami's stiffest competition in terms of total threes, but the Heat have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Dubs.

6. The Heat Will Stumble Out of the Gate

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    After six games in the 2013-14 season, don't be surprised to see the Miami Heat with a 3-3 record.

    Miami opens its season at home against Chicago on Oct. 29, travels to Brooklyn for the Nets' home opener three days later, then draws a home game with the vastly improved Los Angeles Clippers that next week.

    Considering the stakes for all three of its opponents—Derrick Rose's regular-season return; the home debut of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce; and Doc Rivers' biggest early season test—Miami will be extremely vulnerable to a slow start.

    Heat fans shouldn't get up in arms during that slow start, however. It won't guarantee that the Big Three will exercise their early termination options after the season, as much as sports talk radio might suggest otherwise.

    But look at Miami's schedule for the rest of November: There's hardly a projected playoff team in sight. In particular, the Heat have a back-to-back with Orlando followed by a home game against Phoenix that their reserve unit could likely win on its own.

7. Miami Finishes as a Top-20 Rebounding Team

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    During the 2012-13 season, the Miami Heat finished dead last in terms of total rebounds collected (3,166), per Basketball Reference.

    This year, they'll make at least marginal improvements in that area.

    For one, having Chris "Birdman" Andersen for the entire year will give Miami a post presence it sorely lacked in the first few months of last season. The additions of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden certainly won't harm its rebounding totals either.

    Anyone who watched the Heat's first preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets on Oct. 17 knows why this prediction goes against the grain. The Heat were outrebounded by 21 in that game, as Brooklyn nearly grabbed as many offensive boards (17) as Miami did defensive (20).

    But Birdman, Beasley and Oden all sat out against the Nets, leaving Miami woefully thin up front. Once the Heat have their complement of frontcourt weapons available, they should be vastly improved when it comes to rebounding.

8. Norris Cole Plays More Minutes Than Mario Chalmers

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    With Miami fresh off back-to-back championships with Mario Chalmers as its starting point guard, I'm not bold enough to predict that the Heat will bench Chalmers for Norris Cole.

    They will, however, look to establish a much more equal playing-time balance between the two point guards.

    In the 2012-13 season, Chalmers played a total of 2,068 minutes in the regular season (26.9 per game), while Cole accrued 1,590 total minutes (19.9 per game). It marked the second-most total regular-season minutes of Chalmers' career, while Cole set a new career-high playing-time record by over 300 minutes.

    With Cole entering his third season, he's ready to shoulder a bit more of the point guard load for Miami this season. The Big Three aren't the only ones Miami needs to keep fresh for the playoffs; Chalmers is critical to its three-peat hopes, too.

    Thus, don't be surprised to see Cole averaging closer to 25 minutes per game than the 19.7 he's played over his first two seasons. Seeing as he appeared in three more games than Chalmers last year, he's got a great shot at exceeding Chalmers' playing time during the regular season this time around.

9. The Big Three Will All Shoot Better Than Ever

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    If there's one storyline about the 2012-13 Miami Heat that didn't get enough attention, it's that all three members of the Big Three shot better than ever.

    This year, they'll each continue building upon that efficiency by again setting career highs in terms of field-goal percentage.

    Fun yet terrifying fact about LeBron James: His field-goal percentage has increased in each of the past seven seasons, per Basketball Reference. He shattered his career high last year by shooting 56.5 percent from the field, which ranked fifth in the NBA, according to ESPN.

    Both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also smashed their career-best field-goal percentage marks, shooting 52.1 percent and 53.5 percent from the field, respectively. Before 2012-13, Bosh had only cracked 50 percent twice and Wade only had once.

    How could each player possibly be expected to exceed those sterling marks this year? Because as Ethan Skolnick reported for The Palm Beach Post, all three players now "value possessions more" than they did earlier in their careers, cutting out low-percentage shots in favor of higher-percentage looks for a teammate.

10. Dwyane Wade Will Drill At Least 50 Threes

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    Dwyane Wade has only knocked down more than 25 three-pointers in a season three times over his 10-year career.

    The 2013-14 season will mark the fourth time he accomplishes that feat.

    As Wade grows older and his knees grow more brittle, he'll need to make a concerted effort to preserve his body for the postseason. If he hopes to make it through June, he can't be driving with reckless abandon into the paint in November and December.

    It's the natural evolution for elite shooting guards as they get into their 30s; just ask Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Wade hasn't been anywhere near an elite three-point shooter yet, having knocked down only 28.9 percent of his career tries from deep, but he'll need to expand that part of his game to extend his career as long as possible.

    Wade did drill 63 three-point attempts during the first year of the Big Three era, then only had 32 in the next two seasons combined. Expect him to significantly increase his output from behind the line this season to keep himself fresh.

11. The Heat Will Finish Among the Top 5 in Blocks

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    Despite only having Chris "Birdman" Andersen for half of the 2012-13 season, the Miami Heat finished among the NBA's top 10 in blocks (441) and blocks per game (5.4), per Basketball Reference.

    This year, the Heat will do one better: They'll record at least six blocks per game, block more than 500 total shots and finish among the top five in both categories.

    In Birdman's 42 games last season, he rejected 44 shots. Extrapolate that to a full 82-game season and you're adding roughly 40 more blocks to Miami's totals right there.

    Throw in Michael Beasley, who's averaged just under 40 blocks per season over five years, and Greg Oden's 2.3-blocks-per-game career average, and you've got the makings of a Heat team that's much more defensively stout in the paint.

    The Heat have finished among the top 10 in total blocks during each of the three seasons in the Big Three era. With Beasley, Oden and Birdman in the fold, they'll take the next step forward this year in terms of paint protection.

12. LeBron James Will Not Win the MVP

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    LeBron James will enter the 2013-14 season as the clear favorite to win his fifth regular-season Most Valuable Player award. If he does take it home, he'd only stand one behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most MVPs ever accrued by one player.      

    History will have to wait at least a few more seasons to be rewritten, though. Facing a heap of stiff competition, James will fall short in his repeat MVP bid this season.

    Assuming that my third prediction comes true and LeBron does play fewer minutes than ever this season, that will adversely affect his MVP chances. The top three finishers in last year's MVP race all played at least 37 minutes per game, per Basketball Reference.

    Meanwhile, over in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant will be relied upon more than ever in the early part of the season with Russell Westbrook still sidelined. Nightly averages of 30 points, eight rebounds and five assists certainly aren't out of the question, as the Thunder's chances of winning each night will rest firmly on his shoulders.

    Until Miami's preposterous 27-game win streak last season, I had K.D. ahead of 'Bron in my personal weekly MVP odds. If anyone's capable of dethroning King James as MVP, it's Durant.

    If K.D. can't do the deed, though, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose should all be ready to put up a fight, too. Any slippage from the Heat or LeBron himself will open the door for another superstar to wrest the MVP away from him.

13. Miami Will Finish Third in the East

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Before ripping off a 27-game win streak, the Miami Heat weren't all that dominant in the first half of the 2012-13 season.

    Through February 1, the Heat (29-14) held a 0.5-game lead over the New York Knicks (29-15) for the best record in the Eastern Conference, per Basketball Reference. The Chicago Bulls (28-18), Indiana Pacers (28-19) and Brooklyn Nets (28-19) were all within three games of Miami, too.

    New York likely won't contend for the No. 1 seed in the East this season, but the Nets, Bulls and Pacers all should. All three teams significantly improved this past offseason, whether through trades (Brooklyn), free agency (Indiana) or the return of a previously injured star player (Chicago).

    The Heat can't afford to loaf through the regular season if they want home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. With the Nets, Bulls and Pacers all nipping at Miami's heels, 60 wins might not be good enough for the conference's best record.

    Considering that the Bulls have earned the East's No. 1 seed in Derrick Rose's first two years with Tom Thibodeau, I'm penciling them in for the conference's best record. And Indiana, with its newly bolstered bench, will just edge Miami for the No. 2 seed.

14. The Heat Fall to Indiana in the Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    As mentioned in the introduction, picking the Miami Heat to steamroll their way through the NBA playoffs doesn't qualify as a "bold" prediction.

    Suggesting the two-time defending champs will lose in the second round of the playoffs, on the other hand? That fits the bill.

    The days of the Heat cakewalking their way into the Eastern Conference Finals have come to an end. Indiana, Brooklyn and Chicago all have the defensive acumen and the offensive firepower to take Miami down this year.

    Assuming the Heat finish third in the conference, I'd expect the Bulls to earn the No. 1 seed and the Pacers to end up second. That would set the stage for a herculean second-round playoff matchup between the two 2013 Eastern Conference finalists.

    The Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink in 2013 and should come back even stronger this year, thanks to their significantly bolstered bench. With home-court advantage in their favor this time around, Indiana will end Miami's three-peat bid in a hard-fought seven-game series.

15. Despite Losing, the Big Three Stay Together in 2014

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    It's widely assumed that the Big Three's future with the Miami Heat is directly tied to what happens in the 2014 playoffs.

    If the Heat pull off the three-peat, conventional wisdom dictates that none of the three will exercise their early termination options. If they fall short, however, it could spell the end of the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh trio.

    That makes this the boldest prediction of all: No matter what happens in next year's playoffs, the Big Three won't break up the band during the 2014 offseason.

    Assuming Miami does lose to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, James in particular will be tempted to take his talents elsewhere. He openly admits that he hopes to be the greatest ever, per B/R's Ethan Skolnick, which means he can't be satisfied with just two championships.

    It's difficult to imagine the Big Three's potential dynasty in Miami flaming out in such an anticlimactic way, though.

    My guess? All three players opt out, no matter what happens in the 2014 playoffs, and take discounts on longer-term contracts again, just as they did in 2010. From there, it's up to them and Pat Riley to get the Heat back over the championship hump.