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NBA Playoffs 2011: Do the Miami Heat Have the Depth to Win a Title?

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NBA Playoffs 2011: Do the Miami Heat Have the Depth to Win a Title?
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Miami Heat will embark on its first attempt at playoff success in the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh era when they open the first round of the postseason in Game 1 versus the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday.

Several analysts have commented on the recent performances of Wade and James as forming one of the league's most explosive tandems, which have led to the belief that perhaps the Heat could be serious contenders for a title despite months of inconsistency and uncertainty.

But while the Heat currently possess the best statistical trio in the NBA, many commentators argue their bench simply is not good enough for them to truly challenge for a title this year.

Before I address the misconception about the Heat bench, I first want to deal with the issue of the "benches win championships" fallacy that currently appears to inundate the championship punditry.

Benches are certainly important, especially in big home-floor playoff games when supporting casts tend to perform their best.

But benches do not win titles.

By that I mean, if the Bulls or Heat win the championship, it will be because their stars outperformed the stars of the opposing team.

Look at those great Bulls teams from 1996-1998. Although they had a great sixth-man in Toni Kukoc and a clutch shooter in Steve Kerr, the Bulls did not boast one of the league's best benches.

Dickie Simpkins barely played, and half the time, he looked offensively inept. Jason Caffey had his moments, but lacked consistency. Robert Perish—well, he would have been great off the bench in 1991, but by 1997, The Chief was a bit long in the tooth. Bill Wennington was a decent jump-shooter for a center, but not a great post-defender.

Yet the Bulls, with this bench, beat the 1998 Pacers that boasted Jalen Rose, Antonio Davis, Dale Davis, Travis Best and Derrick McKey, representing the best bench in the league at the time. Seriously, these players could start on some teams, especially Antonio Davis who was a starter later in his career.  

Despite the bench disadvantage, this series—like virtually all postseason series—was decided by the stars.

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc outplayed Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Rik Smits and Chris Mullin. Careful analysis of this seven-game series shows the Pacers' bench thoroughly outplayed the Bulls' bench, but the series was actually decided by its starters.

Do the Miami Heat Have Enough Depth to Make a Title Run?

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Nevertheless, because the Heat bench is perceived to be their "weakest link," it will be the reason why they will lose to the Chicago Bulls or Boston Celtics—according to some.

Critics say the Heat rank 30th in bench production in the NBA and therefore cannot win.

But I sincerely doubt that Bulls' backup point guard C.J. Watson will play a larger role than Derrick Rose or Luol Deng in deciding their postseason fate.

If the Bulls win a title, it will be because their stars played the best, not their bench.

Now I certainly feel as though the Heat bench has been inconsistent, but the question is, is the Heat bench 30th in scoring because of a fundamental inability to contribute or because of the way it has been utilized?

The Heat's final regular season game suggested it certainly had the ability to perform. Without the Big Three, the Heat bench handily beat the Raptors 97-79, led by Eddie House (35 points), Jamal Magloire (19 rebounds) and Juwan Howard (18 points).

If the Heat's bench is so bad, how can that be explained?

What about the brilliant effort in the final meeting against the Celtics when both Howard and Joel Anthony out-rebounded and thoroughly outplayed the Celtics' reserves? They outscored them 32-12 and actually helped build the lead when both James and Wade were resting.

If the Heat's bench is so bad, how can that be explained?

It's also worth noting the Heat's bench includes a reigning three-point champ (James Jones), a solid defensive point guard (Mario Chalmers) and more size than the Celtics, whose bench of backup bigs include Jermaine O'Neal, Nenad Krstic and Troy Murphy, who are certainly not preferable to Howard, Magloire, Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

I think there is a fine line between inability for a bench to produce and not producing enough based on a coach's strategy.

Magloire, for example, has only played 18 games this season, but every game he's made an impact.

He frustrated Dwight Howard into a scoreless second-half in a 96-70 win against the Magic early in the season, and he effectively defended Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess in the 30-point win over the Spurs. Every time he plays, questions surface from Heat fans over why he hasn't played more.

My theory is coach Erik Spoelstra is limiting his minutes until the postseason.

It's also worth noting the Heat bench has not been healthy yet this season. When Mike Miller was out with injury, Udonis Haslem was playing solidly on both ends of the court contributing eight points and eight rebounds per game, not to mention defensive presence. When he went down with a foot injury, Mike Miller returned, and while he has struggled at times, he has provided a strong floor game for the Heat.   

Bottom line, I think any success the Heat have this postseason will rest solely on the shoulders of their Big Three, and their bench players are going to have to step up in order for this team to advance to the NBA Finals.

But when one considers what factor Spoelstra's monitoring of minutes could have made in bench production, it's not unreasonable to assume that the Heat's bench may be a lot better than their reputation suggests.

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