The dust's more or less settled on the free agency frenzy, and now's a decent time to look at how teams stack up. The East went from essentially a three-team race last year, to an absolutely insane landscape this coming season. We'll glance at each of the Celtics rivals in the coming days, and Miami seems as good of a starting point as any.
When he was welcoming Eddie House to the fold via Twitter, LeBron James called the Heat "Team John Dillinger." The reference lets you know that the Heat feel like they have a target on their back already. The '08 Celtics won 66 games, bull's-eye and all. How will the Heat handle it?
Congrats to Eddie House. Welcome to Team "John Dillinger". Happy to have u
Key adds: Chris Bosh, Eddie House, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, LeBron James, Mike Miller
Key losses: Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal, Quentin Richardson
Celtics games: Oct. 26 at Boston, Nov. 11 at Miami, Feb. 13 at Miami, April 10, at Boston
Strengths: A two-time reigning MVP, a Finals MVP, and a five-time all star all in their primes. Not to mention a supporting cast that was more solid than anyone expected the Heat to assemble with essentially only minimum salaries. A lot of points and a lot of star power.
Weaknesses: They were never able to find a true big man, which leaves them vulnerable to the Magic with Dwight Howard and the Celtics’ overstocked front-court. There’s also very little room for injury. Wade’s had his share. James told GQ that the mysterious elbow injury that bothered him during the Celtics series is still an issue. If one of them goes down, that’s a heavy load to try to pick up.
Schedule: From December through February, the Heat are practically living out of their luggage with 26 road games. Add the fact that they the league has them playing on the national stage as much possible (the maximum 29 nationally televised games), and the’ll be playing under tough circumstances.
Do they really have a shot at 72 wins? Teams have talked about chasing down the mark the ‘96 Bulls set. But in the end, no one’s come close. The 2006-07 Mavericks put up 67 wins (and lost to the Warriors in the first round), and that’s the closest any team’s come since. Rasheed Wallace went out on that limb last year, and the Celtics came up 22 wins short. For what it’s worth, Scottie Pippen’s willing to bet James, Bosh and Wade don’t come close.
Frankly, I think the Heat can win 73 if two things happen: First, LeBron and Wade have to want it to happen. If those two guys set the defensive tone, it'll make all but about 20 games a potential blowout.
The second thing that has to happen is this team has to rebound as a group, because the lack of size and/or athleticism in the middle, depending on who's in there, will have to be made up somehow. I'm not really concerned about that because LeBron, Mike Miller, Dwyane and Bosh are among the best rebounders at their respective positions.
The 33 straight wins will be trickier, probably. You have to assume if the team loses only nine games, the bulk of the losses have to come against the Bulls, Magic, Celtics, Lakers and Thunder, probably on the road. There is no 33-game stretch of schedule without one of those road games on the schedule.