Barry Jackson

Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat? This NBA analyst says it could happen.

There was a bunch of overlooking the Heat this past offseason, with Celtics executive Danny Ainge and Wizards guard John Wall among those who didn’t even mention Miami when running through a list of teams who could move up in the Eastern Conference in the post-LeBron James era.

But ABC/ESPN’s co-lead analyst Mark Jackson believes the Heat is being short-changed and — no joke — gives Miami at least a chance to win the East.

“They’re a very dangerous team, very dangerous,” Mark Jackson, who’s a fan of Miami’s young talent, insisted to me this summer.

“I think Pat Riley’s done a great job of obviously getting an outstanding head coach in Erik Spoelstra and guys that compete, fight and play with an extremely high motor, which gives them an opportunity to come out of the East.”

Some would say Riley has put himself in position where he’s stuck with this roster because Miami stands well above the salary cap this summer and next summer. Jackson, who played for Riley with the Knicks, disputes that.

“I don’t think they’re stuck at all,” he said. “I think he’s a genius. I don’t think he’s ever stuck because he’s always looking for opportunities to get better.

“I think the East is a bunch of teams fighting for an opportunity to grab hold of what LeBron left behind. There’s a lot of talent. There’s better teams than people expect.”

And Jackson lists the Heat among those teams. Jackson is unique in that regard among several quoted on the issue.

Jeff Van Gundy, his co-analyst on ABC/ESPN’s lead announcing team, said of the Heat: “I put them as definitely a playoff team. If they traded for someone as talented as Jimmy Butler is, then I would put them in that [higher] group.”

Asked to assess the Eastern Conference with James moving to the Lakers, Ainge said this summer: “I think that there’s a lot of good teams in the East that get undersold a little bit. I think Washington, and Milwaukee [is] an up-and-coming team, and Toronto was the best team in the conference last year during the regular season. I think they’re a fantastic team. So the East is going to be tough.”

Meanwhile, Wall also didn’t mention the Heat when discussing the East this summer. “Boston is a tough team that’s there. You have Philly that’s there, Milwaukee, Toronto is there for sure,” he told Comcast SportsNet. “We’re there. Indiana is definitely there.”

As for other Heat predictions, TNT’s Reggie Miller rates Boston, Philadelphia, Indiana and Toronto as his top four in the East, and places Miami seventh behind Milwaukee and Washington.

TNT’s Chris Webber puts the Heat on par with teams such as Washington and said: “Miami is always going to be [in the mix] because they’re always on the same page in talent. They outplay their talent.

AROUND THE DIAL

Fox’s Joe Buck wants to call Games 1 and 2 of the World Series next Tuesday and Wednesday and then the Dolphins-at-Texans game the following night (Thursday night, Oct. 25), but a Fox spokesman said a decision on whether he will work the Dolphins will depend on where the baseball games are played.

The ideal scenario to accommodate Buck would be the Astros hosting Games 1 and 2 next week, so Buck could remain in Houston to call the Dolphins game. If Buck cannot get to the Dolphins game, Thom Brennaman would handle the call with Troy Aikman.

That Dolphins game is now scheduled to air on both Fox and NFL Network. But if Games 1 or 2 of the World Series is rained out, Fox said the World Series game would be rescheduled for Thursday night, Oct. 25, and in that scenario, Dolphins-Texans would be carried only on NFL Network and Fox Sports 1.

This Sunday’s Lions game is the second of three consecutive Dolphins games on Fox, which is highly unusual. Dick Stockton and Mark Schlereth call the Detroit game, which is going to six percent of the country.

We will get four NFL games on TV each of the next two Sundays, with CBS airing Titans-Chargers nationally at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday from London and NFL Network carrying Eagles-Jaguars Oct. 28 at 9:30 a.m. from London, with the NFL Network allowing its studio team of Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, Kurt Warner and Michael Irvin to announce that game.

Sunday’s Bears game was the highest-rated Dolphins game in South Florida this season, viewed by 14.1 percent of Miami-Fort Lauderdale market homes with TV sets, according to Nielsen.

The first five games did an 11.2 (Titans), 13.9 (Jets), 10.6 (Raiders) 13.2 (Patriots), 12.9 (Bengals).

ESPN finally was able to hire Stan Van Gundy as an NBA studio analyst years after David Stern blocked the network from hiring him because of his outspoken nature.

Asked on a conference call on Monday if ESPN finally hiring his brother is as simple as there being a new commissioner (Adam Silver instead of Stern), Jeff Van Gundy said: “I think it was that simple. Some embrace diverse thought and others believe you should spout company lines. It truly is that different. It’s not saying one leadership style is best. I’m just saying that’s the reason.”

Media notes: Andy Slater has started a podcast on his web site, slaterscoops.com, after WINZ 940 dropped his show. It’s also airing on WMEN 640 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. during football season…UM’s Oct. 26 game at Boston College will oppose Game 3 of the World Series on Fox…. Brent Musburger, who left ABC/ESPN last year to do broadcasting work for a gambling-oriented media company in Las Vegas, has resurfaced as the new radio voice of the Oakland Raiders.



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