The Miami Heat are the 2-time defending champions of the NBA. In the 2013-14 season, they battled neck to neck with the Indiana Pacers down the stretch for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They settled for the 2nd seed and finished the regular season with a record of 54-28.
With the Indiana Pacers struggling, the Brooklyn Nets down in their series and the Chicago Bulls already eliminated, the road to the Finals seems pretty easy for the Heat. Which got us to thinking, what if they were on the other side of the fence – the tough Western Conference? Would Miami still be able to steam roll its way to the Finals?
Let’s try to answer this question:
After the end of the regular season, the Miami Heat finished with a 54-28 record. The final 2014 Western Conference standings looked like this:
|San Antonio Spurs||62-20|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||59-23|
|Portland Trail Blazers||54-28|
|Golden State Warriors||51-31|
If we insert the Miami Heat, they would be tied with the Rockets and the Blazers with identical 54-28 records (of course this is excluding the fact that Miami played 2/3 of their regular season games vs. the East instead of the West). Below are Miami’s records against Portland and Houston this season.
|vs. Portland Trail Blazers||2-0|
|vs. Houston Rockets||1-1|
Since their series vs the Rockets is even, the second tie breaker would go to the Conference Percentage:
|Win-Loss Record||Winning Percentage|
|Miami vs. Western Conference||20-10||.667|
|Houston vs. Western Conference||31-21||.596|
So Miami wins the tie breaker and would’ve been the 4th seed if they played in the Western Conference. Now let’s go to the playoffs.
First Round: #4 Heat vs. #5 Rockets
The Heat and Rockets split their regular season series at one game apiece.
“The four-time MVP finished with 22 points, one night after setting a club record with a career-high 61 against Charlotte. He acknowledged before Tuesday’s game that he was “extremely tired” and that he spent most of the day sleeping.”
This was the game after King James dropped a career-high 61 points against Charlotte. He must have been drained and tired after that explosion. He even admitted it, and that was one of the main reasons why the Miami Heat lost.
Their second match was in Miami on March 16. The Heat avenged their loss by toppling Houston 113-104. The Rockets were in control of the game when Ray Allen heated up in the 4th quarter. As ESPN reports:
“Allen scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter on a milestone day for the veteran, Wade and LeBron James each added 24 points and the Heat closed with a flourish to beat the Houston Rockets 113-104 on Sunday and snap their worst stretch of results since 2011.”
So if they were to play in the playoffs, the Heat would win 4-3 if we base our assumption on their head-to-head regular season record, where the home team won every game. If we based our assumptions on the cumulative scores of the games, the Heat were +6 in total points scored for the two regular season games. So the Heat would still come out as the winner in the series, although it certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near a sweep, like they enjoyed during the first round this year.
Another item worth noting was the fact that LeBron James played miserably in their first meeting because as we said, it was the game after he scored 61 against the Bobcats. That first game was close, and James even had the chance to tie it with a three at the buzzer. On the other hand, Miami’s win over the Rockets in Game 2 was convincing. They showed their championship poise and composure, even when they were trailing late in the game.
2nd Round: #1 Spurs vs. #4 Miami
Let us assume that the top seeded Spurs get by the 8th seeded Mavericks in the first round.
Again, Miami and San Antonio split their regular season series 1-1.
In their first encounter since Game 7 of last year’s Finals, Miami carried the momentum and beat the Spurs easily 113-101 in Miami. Chris Bosh led the way with 24 points in a game where Miami never trailed and even led by as much as 29 points. LeBron James added 18 points for the Heat.
On the other end, Tim Duncan paced the Spurs with 23 points. Boris Diaw added 15 points while Marco Belinelli had 12 and Tony Parker scored 11. The Spurs played without three players that game due to injury: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter.
The Spurs were fired up when they played again on March 6. This time, they blew away the Heat 111-87 on their home court. The Spurs won the game in the first quarter when they jumped to a 15-point lead. Miami never recovered and ultimately lost the contest.
The Heat wore the short sleeved, tight fitting “El Heat” jerseys. LeBron James complained that these jerseys were not conducive for shooting. The King finished with 19 points.
The Spurs and Heat are pretty evenly matched. They went seven games in the Finals last season, and during the 2014 regular season their series was split, with the home team winning each time. If we go by the season series and home court advantage, San Antonio would beat Miami 4-3. If we go by cumulative scoring, the Spurs easily outpointed Miami by +12 points. If we base the season on assumptions, Miami’s title run would be over by the 2nd round.
Of course though the playoffs are different, and Miami plays better in the postseason. They always seem to rise to the occasion when needed. So for the purposes of discussion, let us say that Miami ekes out four wins over San Antonio and advances to the Conference Finals.
The other half of the Western Conference bracket would’ve featured #2 Oklahoma City against #7 Golden State. The other pairing would’ve pitted #3 LA Clippers against the #6 Portland Trail Blazers.
During the regular season, the 2nd seeded Thunder beat the Warriors 2-1. In the other match-up, Portland beat the Clippers 2-1. If we assume that the regular season series will be followed, the Thunder would play the Blazers. These teams split their season series 2-2 and their cumulative scores are even.
If we assume that Portland beats OKC, then Miami goes to the Finals by virtue of sweeping their regular season series 2-0 over the Blazers, while winning the cumulative scoring by a slim +3 points.
However, if we assume that there are no upsets and the higher seeded team advances by virtue of the home court edge, OKC would then play the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals.
The Heat and Thunder split their regular season series 1-1. Oklahoma City ambushed the Heat in Miami 112-95 in their first meeting, while Miami evened the score with a 103-81 road victory. So in this series, the road team won. Miami won the cumulative scoring battle by +5 points.
So who wins in an OKC vs Miami Conference Finals? If the higher seed wins, it is OKC. If we go by regular season series and cumulative scoring, Miami advances to the Finals.
Of course this is fantasy, but if we look closely at the regular season and the statistics, the Heat would only be in the middle of the pack if they played in the Western Conference. Since we replaced Dallas with Miami, all eight playoff teams would have at least 50 wins. That is impressive.
Miami would definitely have their work cut out for them in the West. Look at the summary of our scenarios:
|Season Series||Playoff victor by Virtueof Home Court Edge||Via Cumulative Scoring|
|1st Round vs. Rockets||1-1||4-3||+6|
|2nd Round vs. Spurs||1-1||3-4||-12|
|Conference Finals vs. OKC||1-1||3-4||+5|
In our assumptions, Miami could be out of the playoffs in the 2nd round when they meet the top seeded Spurs. Even if they made it past San Antonio, they would still face the Thunder in the Conference Finals, owners of the 2nd best record in the NBA. Even though statistically they should beat OKC, the cumulative scoring difference is only +5. Let’s just say the Heat would certainly have no cake walk to the Finals.
The cumulative scoring in all the pairings mentioned earlier was very close, except for the Heat vs. Spurs, which was double digits. This also tells us that the Western Conference is competitive from top to bottom. That is why in the current playoffs we find OKC down 2-3, Dallas competing with the Spurs 3-2, the Rockets trailing the Blazers 2-3 and the Clippers just one game up on the Warriors 3-2.
In the East, Miami strolled in the park and beat Charlotte 4-0. Chicago was stunned by the Washington Wizards, but it was a #4 vs #5 series which is pretty much even, and Indiana is trailing 2-3 to the #8 seeded Atlanta Hawks, even though they were already having problems before the playoffs started.
So if we put Miami out West, they would be hard pressed to defend their title. And yes, if they relocated to the Western Conference a couple of years ago, there might not be a title to defend in the first place.
This is not to take anything away from the Heat, that team deserves every single ring that it has. The Big Three shifted the title from LA to South Beach. LeBron is the best player in the NBA, and in the world. The Miami Heat are the two-time defending champions, but it’s a Wild Wild West out there, where anything can happen.