The Miami Heat were one of the most surprising teams in the NBA bubble and playoffs last season. They didn’t just upset their way to the NBA Finals – they were dominant, especially against the league’s best regular season team, the Milwaukee Bucks.
With all of the core players back and young players like Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kendrick Nunn still with significant upside, Miami wasn’t expected to be a surprise team at all this season – most predicted they’d be near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Instead, injuries to Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Avery Bradley, and Andre Iguodala and uneven play from Herro, Robinson, and Nunn had the Heat off to a catastrophic start, falling as low as 13th in the conference standings at one point in January.
Now, though, thanks to improved health of Butler, a four-game winning streak, and Robinson, Nunn, and Herro all breaking out of their shooting slumps, the Heat have climbed back to ninth in the conference standings, in a virtual tie with the eighth-place New York Knicks.
Check the NBA betting odds regularly, because you can expect the Heat to continue to climb in the standings. They’re one of three teams currently outside of the playoff picture that should make it by the end of the season though. A fourth team – the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors – would’ve made this list too, but they recently rode a hot streak into the top eight in the East standings for the first time this season. Here are the other two teams you should expect to be in the playoffs by the end of the season even though they’d be on the outside looking in right now.
The Hawks have had terrible luck with injuries, with free agent signing Bogdan Bogdanovic out for the year and promising second-year forward De’Andre Hunter also out long-term with an injury. Their replacements in the rotation, Cam Reddish and Rajon Rondo, aren’t playing well, and star Trae Young – the player most expected to make a big leap to All-Star status this season – has been stuck in a prolonged slump after starting the season strong in December.
There are two reasons to expect the Hawks to turn it around, though. John Collins is having a great season, shooting 53 percent overall and 40 percent from three-point range. He’s not getting enough shot opportunities. That’s due in part to Young being too shot-happy despite his inefficient shooting numbers. If Young can learn to share the ball more, he’ll find that a player as good as Collins actually takes immense pressure off of Young and allows him to get more quality looks.
Center Clint Capela is finally healthy, and he’s played great so far for the Hawks. He’s a good defender, is leading the NBA in rebounding, and his rim-protecting presence inside makes up for Young’s porous defense on the perimeter.
The other factor working in favor of both the Hawks and Heat is that two teams in front of them for playoff spots, the Knicks and Charlotte Hornets, probably can’t sustain their strong early play. The Knicks, in particular, will have trouble holding onto a playoff spot with starting center Mitchell Robinson out the next 4-6 weeks.
The Hornets have been better than expected, but star Gordon Hayward is injury-prone and the team’s frontcourt rotation isn’t exactly formidable.
Atlanta has been a disappointment after a good start, but they have too much talent to not figure things out at some point.
The Mavs can never be counted out, first and foremost because they have an MVP candidate leading them in Luka Doncic. But they have issues. Doncic’s spotty three-point shooting makes it much easier for teams to defend him. Kristaps Porzingis is injury-prone. Other than Tim Hardaway Jr, the team’s supporting cast isn’t reliable. Their defense has been exceptionally bad for stretches.
Dallas has won four straight games after falling to 13th in the conference standings at one point. Doncic’s shooting and the team’s bad defense will be recurring problems, but they are only 1.5 games out of a playoff spot, and there’s one team that is a definite surprise among the West’s top eight – the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs are the only team in the top eight with a negative point-differential. They’re also reliant on two veterans in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge who are getting older. Aldridge has a pretty significant recent injury history.
Bet on Dallas overtaking the Spurs at some point in the next month.