2014 NBA Playoffs: Miami Heat Preview

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LeBron James

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NBA playoffs are finally here, and the biggest storyline is whether or not the Miami Heat will pull off the “three-peat.”

The Heat are looking to become the first team since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers to win three consecutive championships, and just the fourth franchise to accomplish the feat in NBA history.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the defending champs, who have dealt with a variety of injuries, lack of consistency in their starting lineup, and issues with motivation as they trudged through a long 82-game season.

But, the “real” season is here, and Miami is looking to make history, meaning any concerns for inspiration have evaporated.

Preview

The Heat enter the 2014 playoffs with all 15 players relatively healthy and ready to lace up. This is a stark contrast from last season when Dwyane Wade‘s knees were ailing and he had to limp through one of the worst postseasons of his career.

Despite the good health, Miami had a tumultuous ending to their season.

The Heat finished 10-8 in March and 3-6 in April, easily their worst back-to-back months of a regular season during the Big Three era.

The primary suspect for their struggles was a below-average defense that got absolutely torched from the perimeter and allowed 100-plus points in a majority of the Heat’s losses in the final two months of the season.

In nine of the Heat’s last 14 losses, they surrendered 100 or more points, while also losing games against some of the league’s bottom feeders. Miami had 10 losses against non-playoff teams this season, including losing the season series to the 76ers and the Celtics.

In addition to bouts with boredom and lack of drive, Miami couldn’t keep a consistent starting five on the court throughout the year. With Wade missing 28 games this year as part of his maintenance program, and injuries to other starters such as Greg Oden and Mario Chalmers, Coach Erik Spoelstra was forced to experiment with makeshift lineups.

Miami had trouble attaining chemistry with their regular starting five, as only LeBron James and Chris Bosh were consistently in the lineup. However, that did allow the Heat to give opportunities to guys that might otherwise not have received them. Toney Douglas and Udonis Haslem all but cemented themselves a role in the playoffs thanks to late season surges by the duo.

The Heat are a unique team because they are really difficult to judge off their regular season performance, and it’s hard to accurately say what you’re seeing is what you will get in the postseason. This is a team that has won back-to-back titles and clearly has a “switch” they turn on when the lights shine the brightest. While there has been some red flags throughout the season, this team has all the tools to be dominant during the playoffs.

First Round

Second seeded Miami’s opening round opponent should be relatively easy with a matchup against the seventh seeded Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats are making just their second postseason appearance in franchise history, but are vastly improved from previous years.

The Bobcats are anchored by big man Al Jefferson and guard Kemba Walker, who will look to guide Charlotte to their first-ever playoff win.

Miami was very dominant against Charlotte this year, sweeping the season series and winning by an average margin of 10.5 points. Miami hasn’t lost to the Bobcats since LeBron James arrived in South Beach, a streak now dating back four years, going 15-0 in that span.

But that probably hasn’t impacted the Bobcats’ confidence much, as they are one of the hottest teams since the All-Star break. They are 20-9 since the break, have held opponents to under 50 percent shooting in 18 of their last 19 games, and had the league’s lowest average turnovers-per-game over that same stretch, just 11.6 giveaways per night.

On top of that, the Bobcats can feel confident that they will get a strong performance from Jefferson, who has absolutely torched the Heat this season. The winner of the past two Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards has put up 25.3 points and 15.3 boards in three contests against the Heat this year. He has made a living in the paint, and simply couldn’t be contained by any of Miami’s bigs.

Still, there is no denying that experience and superior talent is on Miami’s side.

Everyone on Charlotte’s roster, combined, has a total of 858 playoff points and 15 starts in the postseason. The Heat’s postseason experience? 14,965 points and 727 starts combined.

Let’s also not forget that Miami has the most talented player in the universe, who just happened to put up a career high 61 points on the Bobcats earlier this season. James has endured excellent success against the Cats this year and will look to continue that in their first round series.

While Jefferson and the Bobcats are a much improved team, they simply are overmatched and don’t yet have the firepower to hang with the Heat.

This will be a relatively hard fought series, but the Heat will win in 5 games. 

Allen Levin works for the Miami Dolphins in Media Relations and has covered the NBA for 5 years, including the Orlando Magic beat with KnightNews.com. He has been published in Fox Sports, CBS Sports the Orlando Sentinel and Sun Sentinel. Follow Allen on Twitter @TheNBAllen