With the Heat in town to take on the Bucks tonight, we had the pleasure of trading questions with Kevin Kraczkowski from Hot Hot Hoops. Check out Kevin's inside scoop on the Heat below, and head over to Hot Hot Hoops for my take on the Bucks.
Last year's playoff slugfest with the Pacers confirmed Indy's legitimacy, and no one in their right mind is expecting anything short of a Pacers-Heat East finals this year. Coming off the loss in Indiana earlier this week, how do you like Miami's odds matching up with the Pacers? Is losing home court the potential difference-maker?
After the conclusion of last season, Miami showed that it could hear Indiana's footsteps by addressing the "Hibbert Issue." The Heat signed their most recent reclamation project in big man Greg Oden in part to slow down Hibbert. A lot has been made of the Pacers being built to stop the Heat specifically, but Miami did the same thing when they inked Oden.
As for home court being a difference maker, the measurement is around 61% for the regular season and around 65% for the playoffs, so yes. It can make a difference. Of course, home court advantage in the playoffs is inflated by the disparity in seeding for the first round - where a nearly "sure thing" first seed always meets a "lucky to be here" eighth seed.
I believe the Heat are the next NBA Champion - because they haven't lost it yet. In attempting to be a little more objective, I can say that Miami with the home court against the Pacers have a 60% chance of winning and Miami as a two seed would have closer to a 50% chance of advancing against Indiana.
There was plenty of talk about the Heat trying to get bigger this summer after the Indy series, but Greg Oden has barely played and the Heat's starting five has mostly been the same small lineup that served them so well a season ago. Do the Heat need to evolve to stay on top, or is it a matter of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"?
There's a little of that, honestly. In recent weeks however, an assortment of teams have exploited ways to defeat the Heat. Miami has lost in eight of their last 14 contests in putting up a .500 record in March.
As for Greg Oden's part, he didn't appear for the Heat until mid-January, and has appeared in only 22 games thus far. As he has built his stamina, his minutes have climbed. He was originally envisioned to play around eight to 10 minutes per game in the second half. Instead, he has averaged over a quarter per game (over his last five). He also appears to be regaining his shot: He went six-for-14 (.428) in his first four games versus eight-for-13 (.615) over his last four.
LeBron's having another unreal season, though it seems like people are sleeping on it a little bit simply because a) we've come to expect otherworldly brilliance from him b) his overall numbers are down ever so slightly from his epic all-time season of a year ago and c) Kevin Durant has upped his game to something resembling LeBron-esque levels. Has anything about his game changed noticeably from a year ago?
I wouldn't have noticed it if not for the last three weeks, but James has seemed more likely to commit an unforced turnover. Digging into the stats a little reveal that he is committing 18% more turnovers per minute this season than last, collecting one rebound less per game, and three times more likely to play a game without a blocked shot. Still, tales of his demise are greatly exaggerated. He still is shooting a career high 57% overall, including 62.5% of his two-point shots.
The MVP voting establishment is divided between a) people who will use any excuse to continue voting LeBron to win, and b) people who would love to find a reason not to vote for him. I think also that Durant is competing against James in the race, while James is competing against his past four MVP's. James could play better than Durant all season, but if the race is close, the tie will go to the OKC star based on voter fatigue.
While Chris Bosh is once again providing steady scoring and critical floor-stretching with fantastic efficiency, much has been made of Wade's durability, and his raw numbers as well as his per-minute numbers have steadily declined over the past three seasons. Still, it's tough to complain much about a guy putting up 19/5/5 on fantastic efficiency. Is he the Heat's postseason x-factor?
Wade has been sitting out on the second game of back-to-backs to keep him fresh, taking additional games off, too. Miami is 13-7 (.650) without him, and 36-15 (.706) with him. Miami is 6% more likely to win with Wade playing. Still, a look at his statistics show that his Player Efficiency Rating has dropped in three of the last four seasons, and is dropping even faster this season. He currently sports a 21.7 PER - still very good, but clearly not up to his own standards.
To address your original question more directly - he has looked a lot better and played a lot younger after taking a game off. It's a luxury they won't have in the playoffs, but playing straight through to the Championship would be the dividend on Miami's investment throughout the season.