One question we’ve pondered throughout the offseason:
Is the Heat a borderline playoff team or a very, very likely playoff team?
It appears there are least nine teams fighting for eight spots, with Philadelphia and Milwaukee automatics and a case to be made that Boston is one, too.
The others: Indiana (without injured Victor Oladipo for at least a couple of months), Toronto (17-5 last season without Kawhi Leonard), Brooklyn (replaced D’Angelo Russell with Kyrie Irving but won’t get Kevin Durant until 2020-21), Detroit and Orlando (both made it ahead of Miami last season) and the Heat.
Atlanta and the Knicks can’t be totally ruled out, either.
So I posed that aforementioned question to two network analysts that I highly respect: Stan Van Gundy (who is expected to move from ESPN’s studio to game assignments on TNT) and ESPN studio analyst Tim Legler.
Here’s how they answered:
Legler: “I think they are a ‘fight to get in’ team. So I’d say borderline, and no, I don’t think the Hawks and Knicks are in that group. I think the Heat are in that group with Orlando and Detroit. Possibly Toronto and Indy as well. They will be in that mix, five teams for four spots. Got to be at 43 wins to get in this year.”
Legler views Brooklyn joining the Bucks, 76ers and Celtics as very likely playoff teams.
Van Gundy, conversely, is more confident Miami will be playing past mid-April: “They are at least likely [to make the playoffs] if not closer to a sure thing, presuming relative good health. To me, they would have been a playoff team last year but they played so long without Goran Dragic [who missed 46 games] so it really hurt them.
“If Dragic or Jimmy Butler goes down, it would change my estimation. Assuming relative good health, I think they are as good as anyone other than Milwaukee and Philly. Boston may be a little bit stronger. Indiana is better than they are, too.
“A lot of it will come down to who stays healthy. Orlando had amazing health for their top six guys; almost nobody got hurt. Their top six guys missed a total of 10 games. I’m not sure any of them [beyond the top two] are definite, but Miami is as likely as the rest of those teams.
“Brooklyn is OK, but how big of an improvement is Kyrie over D’Angelo Russell? I don’t know if they’re a lot better. Can Detroit get enough of a boost from Derrick Rose to elevate them? Atlanta maybe is a 10th team [in the mix for a playoff spot].”
The Heat, Van Gundy said, “always gets the most out of what they have. Dragic is an underrated player and people underrated the impact of his injury. Butler is a [top 20] player; that’s about his range. He’s an All Star.
“I like Bam Adebayo. He can get them more to where they want to play. Tyler Herro can shoot the ball; not sure they have anybody on their team you can classify other than him and say that guy is a knock down shooter.”
And Van Gundy believes the ceiling is even higher if Dion Waiters and James Johnson - who are both in better shape - can recapture their spring/winter 2017 magic.
Winslow, during Heat Media Day on Monday, asserted: “We can be great. We can compete with any team in the East. We can get homecourt advantage, be in the two to four range.”
Here’s my Monday piece with everything notable Erik Spoelstra said during his 45-minute press conference.
Here’s my Monday piece with Heat notes, including a Kelly Olynyk update, Goran Dragic comment on Winslow’s desire to play point guard and Heat players on their first impression of Jimmy Butler.