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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Despite 2011 Finals Collapse, Oddsmakers Like Miami Heat

The "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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:30 AM



At Wednesday, December 14, 2011 4:42:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

I'm with you, David, in how I view the Heat. But, as of right now, which is kind of moot, but not entirely, since every team isn't finished filling out their rosters, I would have to take the Heat as well, but not as overwhelmingly favorites. This season is different, will be more of a prolonged sprint with this crazy schedule for each team. Young teams and deep teams will benefit more than other teams, in my opinion.

And I don't see how the other supposed contenders are any better than last year, actually they all seem worse. The c's and lakers look worse. The bulls might look better. They are deep and fairly young, and if they add Rip, that will surely help. The mavs look worse. The thunder, though, might be a challenge. Being a young and deep team will help them a lot.

While you have posted several articles talking about stats and stat gurus, I appreciate the link in this article. I hadn't seen that article before. I love it when you call out stat gurus for their blatant illogical analysis. When there's stats out there saying rodman was better than jordan or kobe is only the 4th best laker, now 3rd with odom gone, then you have to kind of scratch your head, and maybe think, hmm this stat is really dumb. And if Kevin Love is worth 46 wins/year, but yet his team only wins 17, then maybe it's time to at least realize the limitations of your made-up stat. I personally love stats, but while I wish there was some stat(s) out there to settle debates, there isn't and never will be. I understand the limitations of them, and frankly most of them are rather useless often. And as you often point out, even raw stats aren't necessarily contact, so how can you expect advanced stats to necessarily be all that useful. Great example of Morey in the other article. I often him being applauded being a great GM, but seriously what has his team done lately?

At Wednesday, December 14, 2011 8:30:00 PM, Anonymous Eric said...


It's crazy how they jammed the free agency with training camps. This is arguably the busiest and most hectic of an offseason because of its short, compressed length.

Now that the Chris Paul domino has fallen down, how do you view this trade? It's reported that he'll opt-in for the next season, but do you envision Paul staying with the Clippers after 2013?

At Thursday, December 15, 2011 4:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Bulls suffered many injuries to key players last season and still posted the best record in the East; they have now added Rip Hamilton and, if they are healthier than they were last season, they certainly have a good chance to be better than Miami. The Thunder slipped a bit on defense last season but with Perkins in the fold for an entire season I suspect that their defense will bounce back this season. The Heat obviously will be a major factor as long as James, Wade and Bosh are healthy and in their primes but I just don't have a lot of faith in their ability to consistently beat tough-minded, elite squads in playoff competition.

At Thursday, December 15, 2011 4:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If the Clippers are getting the Chris Paul that we saw circa 2007 then of course this is a major addition and could make them one of the top four teams in the West--but for some strange reason people seem to be ignoring the fact that Paul's numbers have declined for the past two seasons and that a knee problem is a significant concern when you are talking about a small player whose entire game is based on quickness. You could argue that Eric Gordon was at least as good a player as Chris Paul last season. Yes, Gordon missed a lot of time due to injury but a broken and/or sprained wrist is not likely to be a long term issue (as opposed to Paul's balky knee). Paul had a few good games in the playoffs but he was going against the aging Derek Fisher--and even with that advantage Paul still slowed down by the end of the series. If Paul regains and maintains his health then he is one of the top five to 10 players in the NBA but it is a bit too soon to just automatically assume that this will be the case. The Hornets got about as much for Paul as they could reasonably be expected to get, while the Clippers traded a lot of assets based on the belief that Paul will (1) be an elite player for years to come and (2) that Paul will ultimately re-sign with the Clippers.

At Thursday, December 15, 2011 9:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I like the Heat this year they understand offense more gonna know where to be and play with each other better. They great defensively already and I think bulls overachieved last year. I don't think they will beat them with old Hamilton, if lebron play like lebron that will be biggest difference nothing else. They should win it if they healthy Dallas is worse Lakers are worse
I don't think thunder ready. Heat should win

At Thursday, December 15, 2011 3:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That sounds a lot like what you said before last season--and you've been saying for years that LeBron is going to win multiple championships but so far he has won exactly two Finals games out of eight with (obviously) no championships.


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