Perhaps the Boston Celtics aren’t the third-best team in the Eastern Conference.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe predicted Friday the Miami Heat will beat the Celtics to the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket this season.
Most NBA observers predict the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers will be the top two seeds in the East, and many expect the Celtics to finish third. However, Lowe believes Jimmy Butler’s arrival in Miami could speed up the Heat’s rebuilding timeline and upset the predicted pecking order.
“Boston is the favorite for this spot,” Lowe writes. “It has more talent than any East team below Milwaukee and Philadelphia. But Boston’s five best players are wings or point guards; some diminishing returns are almost inevitable. Toronto is a trade risk. If both fall short of expectations, the race for No. 3 is wide open.
“Right now, Butler is better than anyone on the Celtics. He can power Miami to a lot of regular-season wins. Miami has an interesting mix around him, including two youngish guys — Winslow and Bam Adebayo — on the come up.
“If (Heat president) Pat Riley senses an opening, he will seize on a win-now trade. I was going to predict Miami hosts a first-round series — putting its floor at No. 4 — but that’s not bold enough in the East.”
The Heat’s 39-43 record in 2018-19 was 10th-best in the Eastern Conference. Although the acquisition of Butler in a sign-and-trade will improve Miami’s prospects, it’s hard to believe he’ll boost the team to the extent Lowe predicts (admittedly wildly).
However, the winds of change also blew through the Celtics this offseason, and there’s no guarantee their plethora of new signings and young talent will mesh well enough to help the team win the 50-plus games that are expected of a No. 3 seed.
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