Despite 2011 Finals Collapse, Oddsmakers Like Miami HeatThe "stat gurus" insisted that pairing LeBron James with Dwyane Wade would create a juggernaut but the reality (as I correctly predicted before the season) is that the Heat turned out to be a very good team--a legitimate contender--but hardly a team that should be compared with the 1996 Chicago Bulls or any other truly dominant squad. During the 2011 regular season, the Heat blew out inferior teams but struggled mightily against elite teams; they managed to get past Boston and Chicago in the playoffs but when the Mavericks challenged the Heat in the NBA Finals James quit while Dirk Nowitzki took over down the stretch.
Any squad with two All-NBA First Team caliber performers (James and Wade) plus one of the NBA's top 15-20 players (Chris Bosh is a six-time All-Star) should be in contention regardless of the composition of the supporting cast but it is fascinating that oddsmakers consistently view the Heat as the favorites to win the 2012 NBA championship. While it is important to understand that odds are set to balance the wagering and not to predict the outcomes of sporting events, it is still striking that in online betting (more info here) the Heat are considered even money favorites to win the championship, significantly better odds than are offered for the L.A. Lakers or the reigning champion Dallas Mavericks. Every source that I have seen lists the Heat as favorites, usually by a large margin. It is also striking that the Lakers are generally listed as one of the top five teams, because I think that they could possibly even struggle to make the playoffs in the West if they do not upgrade their roster (in a short season the Lakers are one Kobe Bryant injury away from being a .500 team in a conference in which playoff qualifiers generally have to post records of .550 or better). The Lakers dealt the disgruntled Lamar Odom--who had a good regular season but did not distinguish himself in the playoffs--to Dallas for a draft pick and a trade exception, a sign that the Lakers' front office understands that the team must get younger and more athletic in order to be a championship contender; the Odom deal clearly weakens the Lakers in the short term but was presumably just the first step in the process of transforming the roster in order to best take advantage of Bryant's final elite level years while also positioning the team for life after Bryant.
I am waiting until the last minute to post my Eastern and Western Conference previews because the roster changes during the compressed free agency period--plus the possibility of one or two blockbuster trades--will have a major impact on my predictions but my overall impression of the Heat has not changed since last season: they will be a legitimate contender for the next several years but--unless they increase their collective mental toughness and unless James and Wade find a way for their similar skill sets to be more complementary, particularly when facing the top teams--in any given season there will likely always be at least one elite team that has an excellent chance to defeat the Heat in a seven game series. Last season, I expected Boston to be that team but the ill-advised Kendrick Perkins trade took away much of Boston's inside advantage versus the Heat while also seeming to drain some of the spirit from Boston's team. The Heat briefly fooled me when they beat a defensive-minded Chicago team in last year's Eastern Conference Finals but after their collapse against Dallas I find it very difficult to believe that the Heat will win the 2012 championship.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:30 AM