We've already tackled five burning questions surrounding the new-look Heat. Now it's time to focus in on how they'll perform this coming season. Should we crown Miami's three kings the East champs in 2010-11? Or will Boston and Orlando crash this South Beach party?
We asked our 93 panelists who they thought would prevail and represent the East in the NBA Finals. Here are the results:
2010-11 Forecast: Eastern Conference champions
RANK TEAM VOTES 1
2009-10 record: 47-35
Lost in first round of '09-10 playoffs
Predicted 2010-11 record: 61-21
2009-10 record: 59-23
Lost in East semifinals
Predicted 2010-11 record: 56-26
2009-10 record: 50-32
Lost in NBA Finals
Predicted 2010-11 record: 51-31
2009-10 record: 41-41
Lost in first round of '09-10 playoffs
Predicted 2010-11 record: 50-32
Experts: Eastern Conference champs?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: The Heat. It's strange to pick an almost entirely new team that has so-so big men and point guards, but it's stranger still to pick against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
With Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley, all indications are this team will be not just talented, quick and athletic but also hardworking, professional and team-centric. That works.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Orlando Magic. They tried playing the "nobody respects us" card for the past two seasons and maybe it will finally take effect now.
Dwight Howard was a dark horse MVP candidate last season, but now that LeBron is in South Beach, Dwight can no longer be considered the best player in the state of Florida. Take that, plus the humiliating first three games of the Eastern Conference finals, and if Howard and the Magic don't enter 2010-11 in vengeance mode, then they never will.
Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: Miami. The Heat will start last season's two most efficient players (and arguably the game's two best perimeter defenders) on opposite sides of the floor. That presence should compensate for whatever remaining flaws exist on the roster -- whether it's interior defense or depth.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Miami. The James-Wade-Bosh combo is simply too much for opponents to deal with, even with the limitations of Miami's supporting cast and the lack of an effective deterrent for the likes of Dwight Howard or Shaquille O'Neal.
And remember, the Heat are likely to be very active on the in-season free-agent market -- any bought-out veteran will be making his first call to Miami. As a result, their roster may improve as the season goes on.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: Celtics. Because they can defeat the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals with their size and their defense. Miami cannot defend the two O'Neals (Jermaine and Shaq) and Kendrick Perkins in the low post. And the Who Is The Alpha Dog question is going to become the Heat's undoing in the deciding game of that series?
Also, the familiarity factor weighs heavily in Boston's favor -- something we all should have relearned while watching the Celtics last spring in the postseason.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Heat. My days on Orlando's bandwagon are a memory after (A) last spring's playoff collapse, (B) Orlando's lack of roster upgrades and (C) Dwight Howard's refusal to play on Team USA this summer when he clearly could have used the go-to-guy reps.
It's a lot harder to pick against Boston -- since the Celts have apparently replaced the Spurs as the team you never want to write off -- but I can't deny Miami. For all the Heat's supposed vulnerabilities defensively or depth-wise, I expect them to create far more problems than they face with two elite finishers (LeBron and Wade) and Bosh as a wild card.
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