NBA Finals: ESPN Experts Give Miami Heat Unanimous (5-0?!?) Disrespect Ahead of Game 3

Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat during the Game 2 victory over the Nuggets in Denver in the NBA Finals.

Getty Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat during the Game 2 victory over the Nuggets in Denver in the NBA Finals.

If you’ve been following the Miami Heat throughout this magical run from the play-in tournament—and the brink of elimination—up to this coming Game 3 of the NBA Finals, you know that there has been ample disrespect for just how good this bunch is front the get-go.

So you should not be surprised to find that, in a panel of ESPN experts ahead of the series moving to Miami, the Heat again are having trouble finding love. Maybe that means they’ve got the Nuggets right where they want them.

The panel was made up of five long-time NBA reporters—Tim MacMahon, Marc Spears, Ramona Shelburne, Ohm Youngmusik and Nick Friedell—all of whom were asked, “Which team wins Game 3 and why?”

From across the board—yes, all five of the experts, 5-0—the Nuggets were the pick.

Wrote Spears, who noted that the Nuggets have not played with the necessary intensity throughout the series: “Miami plays one way: all out. Denver seems to play inspired at times and goes through the motions at others. With the Nuggets on the road with two Finals games under their belt, they will finally wake up and bring the needed energy.”

Miami Heat’s 3-Point Shooting Underrated

That is one way that the national media typically dings this Heat team—the suggestion that they are not all that talented but, rather, stays competitive with effort. Of course, effort and the ability to maintain effort is part of the hard work that the Heat put in, and a capacity for hard work is a talent in itself.

Another way that the Heat take flak nationally is that they are exceeding their capabilities, particularly when it comes to shooting. The Heat shot 34.4% from the 3-point line during the regular season, which was 27th in the NBA, but have shot 39.4% in the postseason, which ranks first. The expectation seems to be that the Heat’s shooting will come crashing down, eventually.

Here is what MacMahon wrote: “I don’t think the Heat have the offensive firepower to outscore the Nuggets, but Miami keeps coming up with 3-point shooting performances that drastically exceed the expected results considering shot quality.”

But that ignores the possibility that it is not the playoffs that were the anomaly, but the regular season. Remember that last year, with much the same roster, the Heat were the top 3-point shooting team in the NBA, at 37.9%. And remember, too, that the Heat were a much better 3-point shooting team late in the year (37.8% in March and April) than they were to start (33.3%).

The reality is that the Heat are a good 3-point shooting team that was simply in a five-month slump, from October through February.

Wake-Up Call for Nuggets?

The one thing that all the experts agreed upon is that the Nuggets will respond well to being called out on their effort by coach Michael Malone after the Heat’s Game 2 win. Again, that seems to overlook the fact that the Heat have played with a steady effort throughout the postseason.

“I think the Nuggets respond and win this next game,” Shelburne said. “They’re not a great road team, but they just got hit in the mouth in Game 2 and called out for a lack of effort and discipline by their coach. I think they’ll find a better response after a few days to regroup.”

But the Nuggets have a big disadvantage going on the road. Denver was just 19-22 on the road in the regular season, 11th in the NBA, and have been a so-so 4-3 on the road in the playoffs to date. The Heat, meanwhile, are 6-2 at home this spring, with a plus/minus rating of plus-8.3 thus far.

A win at home should not be a stretch for the Heat in Game 3. But it depends on whom you ask.

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