The Big 3? The 3 Musketeers? Miami Thrice?
Whatever you call them, the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh shook the basketball (and pretty much the entire sports) world when they decided to take their talents to South Beach and sign with the Miami Heat, a team that had two rostered players (Michael Beasley, who was later traded, and Mario Chalmers) at the time but became an instant title contender afterward. Why, you ask? Oh, perhaps because the three of them are each at the peak of their careers and have received a combined 63% of possible MVP voting "points" since 2004 (although only 0.6% of that is Bosh).
I wrote a piece about the Heat in September telling people not to believe the hype, and to some degree I was right. They started slowly, which was not entirely surprising given the adjustments that need to be made to accommodate that combination of players, going just 9-8 in their first 17 games. Against Boston, Orlando, New Orleans, Utah, and Dallas during that stretch (all teams with at least a .600 win percentage this year), they went 1-6. Granted, they didn't lose that all-important tenth game until 23 games later when they had surged to 30-10, but there will be no threatening the Jordan Bulls this year.
Interestingly, though, the individual performances of the three players has not suffered as much as one could have predicted. Lebron is averaging 26 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists per game and shooting 48% from the floor; that's just 2 points off his career average with no other stats suffering. Wade is averaging 25 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists per game and shooting 49% from the floor; that's a slight reduction in assists but an increase in rebounds and shooting percentage from his career numbers. Not only that, but James and Wade are still both in the top 3 in the league in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a statistic kept by ESPN's John Hollinger that rates a player's per-minute productivity adjusted for the team's pace of play. Bosh, on the other hand, has seen his output reduced by about 4 points and 1 rebound per game as a result of not being the only show in town. He has seen his PER reduced by 20% this season from last season.
All right, so the Heat went 22-5 after their slow start and are now two games ahead of the Magic in the Southeast Division and 1.5 games behind the Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference. What about the teams that James and Bosh left, the Cavaliers and Raptors?
Oh, them. Well... the Raptors have the opposite record of the Heat (13-31) and have lost 7 games in a row, and the Cavs are the worst team in the league at 8-35 and have lost sixteen in a row. And now we know why Lebron was the most valuable player in the league the last two years!
So how do the Heat's playoff prospects look? The injury bug is a concern, as each of the members of Miami Thrice has spent time on the shelf for one reason or another. The return of Mike Miller to the lineup will help balance the floor, but the big boost has to be the way that they have been able to just roll off wins lately (albeit against somewhat inferior competition with some exceptions), which should give them confidence that they can win a 7-game series the way they are currently constructed.
My prediction: They finish with right around 60 wins (maybe 61-21?) and are able to get at least one playoff series victory. I would just be concerned about playing the Celtics, because their playoff experience and depth are something that the Heat cannot compare with. And there's still that whole "Lebron choking in the playoffs" thing...