The Miami Heat still have a fair amount of talent despite losing LeBron James. Whether or not the Heat can form a cohesive team is troubling enough to make the former champions our feature UNDER pick against the NBA odds.
The Miami Heat could surprise a lot of people this year. They don’t have LeBron James, but they do have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and Bosh is eager to take charge of this team after playing third fiddle in the Big Three. Miami has also brought in some complementary talent in Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts, not to mention first-round draft pick Shabazz Napier from the NCAA champion UConn Huskies.
Yup, Miami could do a lot of damage this year against the NBA odds – if you’re betting the point spread. But we’re looking at the regular season win totals at Bodog, and we’re not convinced the Heat have got what it takes to make it all the way to 44 victories. They have to make their post-James roster work over the course of a full season, and even if the new starting lineup can find some cohesion, the bench has been reduced to Chris Andersen and spare parts. Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE projections have Miami headed for 34 wins this year.
Here are four more UNDER teams we’re looking to add to our NBA picks against the total:
Los Angeles Lakers (30.5)
The Lakers weren’t very good last year at 27-55, but they occasionally did some interesting things for coach Mike D’Antoni. He’s gone now, and it looks like his successor, Byron Scott, is serious about turning Los Angeles into a smashmouth basketball team that fouls a lot and doesn’t shoot threes. This might be because the Lakers have an incentive to lose; they owe the Phoenix Suns a Top-5 protected draft pick next year as part of the Steve Nash trade. Sadly, Nash is out this year and will probably never play in the NBA again. And how many games will Kobe Bryant play before he breaks down again?
New York Knicks (40.5)
There’s considerably more hope in New York, where former Lakers coach Phil Jackson will have at least nominal control over the Knicks rebuild. Make no mistake, though: This is a rebuilding team disguised as a retooling team. Tyson Chandler (plus-3.67 RPM last year) and his defense are gone, replaced at center by Sam Dalembert (minus-0.38 RPM). And as much flak as Ray Felton (plus-0.89 RPM) got, he’s not nearly as bad at defense as Jose Calderon (minus-1.69 RPM). The Knicks have a SCHOENE projection of 32 wins; RPM is even more pessimistic at 27 wins. One falling leaf is not just one leaf. It means the whole autumn.
Brooklyn Nets (41.5)
Here’s another big-market team waiting to be faded. When the Nets failed to get much of anything out of their astronomical 2013-14 budget, out came the knives. Gone are Paul Pierce (plus-2.50 RPM) and Shaun Livingston (minus-0.60 RPM), and in their place are Euro import Bojan Bogdanovic and the dubious talents of Jarrett Jack (minus-3.20 RPM). It’s possible Bogdanovich will make the immediate transition from playing in Turkey to playing in the NBA. But we wouldn’t expect too much right out of the gate. We also wouldn’t expect Deron Williams (plus-3.20 RPM) to last the whole season in Brooklyn.
Toronto Raptors (48.5)
This says more about the raised expectations north of the border than it says about the Raptors as an organization. They caught fire last year after the Rudy Gay trade, and GM Masai Ujiri continued to work the phone lines this offseason, adding quality depth while retaining all his key players, including Kyle Lowry (plus-4.25 RPM). However, Lowry has to keep up the pace after playing the best season of his career thus far, and Toronto has some tougher competition in the Eastern Conference this year. We’ll settle for 45 wins and a deeper run in the playoffs.