Analysis: Miami's attitude toward this past regular season could best be described as "an inconvenience." This was especially true of the team's play since the end of February, as the club is just 13-14 in its last 27 games. The end result is a .659 winning percentage, the Heat's lowest mark in the past four years.
Part of this has to do with the absence of Dwyane Wade, whose quickly-deteriorating body limited him to just 54 games this winter. Chris Bosh didn't pick up the slack in Wade's absence, averaging just 16.2 points (his lowest output since his rookie season) and 6.6 rebounds (lowest in his career), and Miami's bench failed to provide much firepower throughout the year.
Luckily for Miami, the team still employs the services of one LeBron James, who finished behind Kevin Durant as the most efficient player in the league this year. Admittedly not fully engaged throughout the season, look for James to punch it into overdrive in the upcoming weeks. Helping James will be one of the best clutch shooters in league history in Ray Allen, and even a Wade operating at 80 percent will put adversaries on notice. With a sound defense (97.4 points allowed per game, fourth-best) and one of the game's greatest in their corner, the only thing getting in way of another Finals appearance will be the Heat themselves.
Analysis: It was quite the endeavor for GM Daryl Morey to maneuver the Rockets out of the Yao Ming-Tracy McGrady Era, but all of the GM's draft swaps and cap-friendly signings have finally put the organization in contention for the Larry O'Brien trophy. And I suppose the Thunder's gift of a franchise star for three backups didn't hurt, either.
Unfortunately, the Rockets enter the playoffs under an ominous cloud. Dwight Howard has been dealing with ankle injuries for the past month, and though he will be suiting up for the playoffs, his stamina and durability are in question. Even with Howard, the Rockets have been a mess defensively, allowing 103.1 points per game, 21st in the league.
On the bright side, the team unexpectedly welcomed back scrappy guard Patrick Beverly, who was believed to be lost for the season but returns after an absence of only eight games. James Harden has improved his distribution aptitude while Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones have proved to be solid contributors. Add it up and the Rockets finish with the second-best offense in the NBA. They aren't firing on all cylinders, but the Rockets still having the ceiling of a championship contender.
Chances of Winning NBA Finals: Heat 45.2% - Rockets 21.6%
Average Score: Heat 102.7 - Rockets 102.4
Series MVP: LeBron James - 24.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 7.0 APG
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