Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Miami Heat, our 2013 NBA champion. Still, they’re sorta screwed.
Injuries, age, hubris, revenge. If anything’s going to stop the Miami Heat from making it back to the NBA Finals, it’ll be some or all of these roadblocks.
Watch out for osteoporosis, old folk.
Last year, it looked like the Miami Heat were about to physically fall apart. The oft-injured Dwyane Wade was dealing with not-so-secret knee problems during Game 3 of the second round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. Wade only managed five points, playing the second worst playoff game of his career. A game before, due to Roy Hibbert accidentally getting caught on Chris Bosh’s arm, Bosh experienced an abdominal strain that caused him to miss most of the Indiana and Boston series – an injury that gave the opposing team the lead in each series before the Heat rallied to make it to the Finals. During Game 4 of the Finals, sort-of-but-not-really known as the “Cramp Game,” Heat fans watched in horror as the rarely injured LeBron James collapsed to the ground and had to be removed from play. Half of the team’s most recognizable members of the supporting cast were plagued with injuries all season, and only really effective a few times during a long playoff run. Add in Ray Allen’s bum ankles and Rashard Lewis’ stark decline in skill since he stopped taking HGH, and the Heat are still sitting very high, but on a very precarious perch. Heat fans will probably cringe whenever they see someone get tangled up with Bosh’s arm, whenever Allen lands too hard after layup, or whenever Wade flies at the basket without a plan for landing.
Wade turns 31 this season, and though that’s normally fine for a player of his caliber, his injury history makes that an old 31. Keep in mind that a 33-year-old Tracy McGrady dealt with similar injuries that derailed his career. Speaking of 33, unless Rashard Lewis has experienced some kind of extreme rejuvenation, he’s a very old 33. Udonis Haslem, regularly referred to as the Heat’s heart and soul, will turn 33 around the time of the Finals, and his impact visibly and somewhat drastically waned during last year. Face-guarder and charge-taker extraordinaire Shane Battier turned 34 in September, and noted hero of the Finals-winning game Mike Miller will turn 33 in February. The players that will receive the majority of the overall minutes on the Miami Heat are older than 30. Keep in mind that the average age of their Finals opponent, Oklahoma City, is only 25.
Of course, after the Big Three’s first year together, we can’t quite count out their hubris. Sure, they managed to win the Finals because it seems they finally got past that hubris, but who knows – this is a team that frustratingly blows enormous leads regardless of the opponent because they get cocky and stop trying right in the middle of a game. Heat fans will hope hubris is officially behind their team.
Revenge is a cagey bitch.
As any sports fan knows, the most terrifying facet of a rematch is the other team’s desire for revenge, and the Heat have a very long road of bad blood ahead of them should they return to the playoffs. The Heat always have bad blood with the Knicks, and ever since the Heatles epoch, the Heat have been bitter rivals with the Celtics, who made some great additions in the offseason. After all the trash talking and cheap shots in the second round last year, the Heat now have legitimate bad blood with the Pacers. If the Heat make it to the Finals, they also might have to deal with the Thunder, one year more experienced and hungry for revenge, or the Lakers, an extremely tough matchup for the undersized Heat.
Sure, the Heat won the title last year and, in theory, they got better in the offseason. Those do make for good odds. But even though the Heat sit high atop that perch, it doesn’t have the strongest legs to stand on.
Actual season prediction: A win over the Thunder or Lakers in the Finals. The Thunder’s newfound experience and hunger for revenge should be pretty terrifying, and the Heat being completely unable to match up with the Lakers is equally as terrifying. But Miami is still the best team, and we’re picking them until they prove otherwise.