NBA Betting: Heat Ready for Return To Prominence?
by Trevor Whenham - 02/19/2009
The Miami Heat are making some noise. They have been impressive in recovering from a terrible season last year, and they made a big splash in the trade market. It would take a blind optimist to call them a contender for another title, but they are certainly a factor in the Eastern Conference again, and that's really something given where they were last March. What's also striking is how much this team has changed in the lat year. Dwyane Wade is still there, but much of his central supporting cast is different - Shawn Marion has come and gone again, Jermaine O'Neal is newly arrived, Michael Beasley is the hot draft pick, and so on. So, here's the question - is this a team on a rapid climb upwards, or is the hype just something they can't live up to? This team currently gives us a lot to talk about. Here's a look at some of the top storylines:
What's their identity? - This time last season the Heat made a conscious move away from a large traditional center when they sent Shaq to Phoenix. That was a bold move, but a deliberate one. A year later, they are right back where they started from - different O'Neal, same basic style. To make matters even stranger, the two O'Neals were essentially traded for each other - Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks went the other way in both deals. Though it was pretty obvious that the lack of a dominant center wasn't working for the Heat, it would still be more comforting to get the sense that the Heat had a long-term vision that they were sticking to.
Questions abut O'Neal - When he is at his best, O'Neal is a very good center - a six time all-star. He's only 30, but his knees are more than a little suspect and have cost him significant playing time over the last three seasons. The Heat did their homework in evaluating O'Neal, so he's at least somewhat likely to hold up this year. Still, it has to be a question. The other question is if O'Neal can fit in here. He didn't mesh with Chris Bosh in Toronto, and he didn't seem particularly committed to trying to make it work. Now he has to co-exist with Udonis Haslem, a guy that he has fought with in the past. On paper there is no reason why it won't work, and O'Neal is saying all the right things. The same could have been said about Toronto when he arrived there, though. O'Neal has huge upside, but he'd be a very expensive mistake if things don't go well, and he'd be harder to dump on another team after wearing out his welcome in three cities in two years.
Small forward overload - Jamario Moon makes this deal particularly promising. Marcus Banks was almost never used, while Moon is a starter-caliber player. The way Pat Riley has been talking about him since the deal it's clear that the Heat are high on him. He'll not be alone in wanting playing time at small forward, though. Shawn Marion took the bulk of the minutes when he was in town. Behind him are Yakhouba Diawara, who has started 11 games; James Jones, who is coming back from wrist surgery; and two guys - Daequan Cook and Michael Beasley who would be out of position at small forward, but who could easily be used. Moon is a good player, and at his best he is not much of a downgrade from what Marion was providing this year. It's just a question of whether he'll get a chance to shine, and if all the possible alternatives can peacefully co-exist.
Dwyane Wade's issues - Statistically, Wade is having a very good year. Personally, it's another story entirely. He's going through a very ugly divorce that is playing out in the pages of the tabloids. He started a chain of restaurants that failed quickly and spectacularly. A 'friend' has accused him of marijuana use. The same friend also says Wade was part of the trashing of a condo. So far, Wade seems to be holding up okay, and he's taking his frustration out on his opponents. The divorce proceedings are escalating, though, and with it the pressure on him. It would be understandable for it to start to affect his game. My bet is that it probably won't, but it's something that needs to be watched. Miami can't afford for him to struggle even a little bit.
The schedule - It wouldn't be easy for Moon and O'Neal to be integrated with the team in the midst of the season at the best of times, but it will be even harder for Miami given the schedule they face. They have 29 games remaining. 17 are against teams that are probably going to be in the playoffs. They probably don't have to worry about falling out of the playoffs, but the team's fate would be much more positive if they could move up from their current fifth seed into fourth so they can have home court advantage at least once. It's not impossible, but it will be tough. If the first game is any indicator then there could be a steep learning curve - Miami lost at home to lowly Minnesota despite 37 points and 12 boards from Wade. O'Neal missed significant time in the game with an elbow to the face, but when he did play he looked confused and a step slow. Moon was totally irrelevant in five minutes of play. James Jones started at small forward and he didn't notch a single point in 17 minutes of play.