I may be (slightly) biased, but I am not a believer in the Miami Heat. I just don't think they're very good. I think they're old, breaking down and ripe to be beaten.
We think of the 2001-02 three-peat Lakers as the mother of all on switch/off switch champions, but they still won 58 games in a very good West that year and had a solid 7.2 scoring differential, second-best in the league. The competitive balance between the two conferences was even more lopsided back then, the New Jersey Nets had the top seed in the East with a 52-30 record and a 3.7 scoring differential. Even then the Lakers needed to win a road playoff overtime Game 7 at Sacramento to make their third Finals, in a series in which they were thoroughly outplayed in five of the first six games and needed a Robert Horry miracle in Game 4 and a refereeing travesty in Game 6 to survive. Their reward was a walkover Finals opponent. Could they have won the ring if somebody halfway decent was waiting for them in Round Four, or would the Kings have taken too much out of them?
The 1997-98 Bulls were coughing and wheezing by the end of their second three-peat, needing seven games to get past Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals and then a Michael Jordan walk-off to beat the Jazz in the Finals in Game 6 at Utah. Still, their 62-20 record was tops in the East and their scoring differential of 7.2 was the best of anyone. They were challenged, but never seriously threatened.
Now look at the Heat. They won 54 games in a lousy conference. It's unfathomable to me how a "good" team can win just 54 with LeBron James playing out of his mind for 77 games and Chris Bosh in the lineup for 79. Yes, Dwyane Wade gave them just 54 games, but just James and Bosh should be enough to win more than 54 in that conference, right? He played 69 last season and they won 66. His absence doesn't explain a 12-game drop-off. Not entirely.
Miami went 11-14 in their final 25 games. They had a stretch where they lost three in a row and five of six, things that hadn't ever happened in the LeBron Era. Their defense dropped to 11th in points per possession. Mike Miller was gone. Shane Battier looked like toast. The Greg Oden thing doesn't look like it's working out. Michael Beasley can't stay in Erik Spoelstra's rotation. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are serviceable at best, but can't even put up decent numbers when they're left wide open every night.
It's one thing to suggest that they're coasting, that they're just biding their time, readying for the playoff push, but if that's the case, why did James kill himself for 77 games, playing 39 minutes a night in April? It couldn't have been for the MVP, that was long-decided in Kevin Durant's favor. Was he singlehandedly pushing for that top seed when nobody else on his squad cared, or is the more plausible explanation the simpler one: What his teammates gave was all they could give.
Look, I think the Heat are the 8th-ranked team in Hollinger's Power Rankings for a reason. I think most any Western team would be favored to beat them in the Finals. Miami matches up well with Oklahoma City, but I think the minutes have taken their toll on Wade and co. Don't forget, this crew made the Finals in 2010-11 too, losing to Dallas. They've already had their Finals three-peat run. This is the decline phase. The 2003 Lakers got blown off the floor by the Spurs in the Western semis. The 1999 Bulls were broken up. I think Miami's time is done. They're no different than LeBron's Cavs teams now, the ones he abandoned for a better situation. The only difference is he's better and he plays for a better coach.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats haven't beaten Miami in their last 15 tries. Only one of their four games this season was competitive. In their most-recent encounter, James scored 61, which you may have heard about. Rookie coach Steve Clifford has done a great job with them, but they have no chance against the Heat. Al Jefferson might give us stats reminiscent of Amar'e Stoudemire against the Spurs in 2005, but his defense will be similar as well, as will the result.
Not one guy on the Bobcats -- not Kemba Walker, not Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, not Gerald Henderson, not Josh McRoberts -- is an asset on both ends of the floor. What they give you on one end, they take away on the other. That's kind of a problem against the Heat. Somebody's gonna knock them off, but it won't be the Hor-cats.
Fun Fact: I hope you're sitting down -- Gary Neal's 105.0 defensive rating is the worst of any rotation player on the team outside of fellow newcomer Luke Ridnour. I don't know, man, I'm as surprised as you are.
Prediction: Heat in five.