Once a regular on network television during the Big 3 era, the Heat’s national exposure is far more limited now, with TNT’s telecast of Thursday’s game against Boston one of only three appearances on the network’s schedule this season.
Kevin McHale, who is working Thursday’s 7 p.m. game with Marv Albert, sees the Heat as a potential sixth seed with a chance to move up to five, if healthy.
But could he envision any scenario in which Miami beats Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston or Milwaukee in a potential first-round playoff series? (It’s difficult to envision a Heat-Pacers first round matchup).
“It would have to be those guys locking down on defense, playing phenomenal defense, switch a lot of stuff,” McHale – who called multiple TNT games in the Heat-76ers playoff series last April - said by phone this week.
“It’s going to take Dion Waiters being on fire, Goran Dragic playing at a really high level. It would have to be the best Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow playing well every night. It would be a bunch of guys that would have to play really well. They’re capable of it. They’re not going to be favored; I certainly wouldn’t favor them [in the first round].
“But it’s not like these teams are going to run away and hide from them. I don’t think they would. [Miami] is competitive enough. If everything is clicking, you give yourself a chance to beat all the top teams. Boston would scare me and Toronto is the one team I look at and say it’s a tough matchup for everybody in the East.”
Still, McHale sees a ceiling to what can be accomplished with this roster.
“You have to have superstars to win,” he said. “They have one on their team in [Dwyane] Wade, but he’s an aging one, not what he used to be.
“They have to have everybody healthy for them to do well. Dragic, too. They’re an interesting team in the fact they get a lot out of their guys. They find ways, and they have a lot of depth and a lot of players that are similar. Every night is different people.
“Their big thing is can they score enough. They’re going to compete. Erik Spoelstra does a nice job of getting the most out of the guys.”
McHale, a Hall of Famer and regarded as one of the best power forwards of all time, said this team reminds him of the one he coached in Houston his first year there (2011-12), which finished 34-32 in the lockout shortened season.
“We had a team like that in Houston; we didn’t make the playoffs my first year,” he said. “But we had fun because they played hard and there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between them. It was a gritty group.”
He understands the challenges Spoelstra faces in trying to decide among 12-rotation worthy players (13 when Dragic comes back), but says the depth gives Spoelstra one advantage.
“He’s got the ultimate hammer over them, because if guys don’t play hard, there’s not a lot of difference between the fourth guy and the seventh guy,” McHale said. “If a guy is not playing hard or playing the right way, you can substitute quickly and no one says much about it. Sometimes, that’s not a bad thing to have.”
CAVS VET WEIGHS IN
You want to know what makes the Heat’s zone defense so effective?
Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson offered a pretty cogent explanation after Miami’s game there last week.
“Their roster does a good job of having a lot of long guys over 6-7,” he said. “At one point [Wednesday] they had Justise Winslow at 6-7, Derrick Jones at 6-7, James Johnson at 6-8, Hassan Whiteside at 7-0, and Josh Richardson, who’s 6-6. So they’ve got a lot of depth on their roster in terms of length. So obviously the zone is good for them just because they can take up so much space.”