NBA insider says Heat are more likely than Lakers to make conference finals

Mike Battaglino
4 Min Read
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers play in opposite conferences, ESPN analyst Brian Windhorst said the Heat have a better chance to return to the conference finals than the Lakers do.

“This is a good question with an easy answer,” Windhorst said. “It’s unquestionably the Heat. When you look at the Heat, they are tied for sixth right now with Philadelphia, and they have missed the most games due to player injuries of any team in the league. They are not a sixth-place team. They are holding a sixth-place record because of injuries.

“… And you look at the Lakers, I don’t see them getting out of the play-in. I don’t see ’em getting into the top six. So, the path for the Heat is gonna be easier. They’re a better team than their record shows. The Lakers are more accurate to the record that they’ve had because they’ve generally been healthy with their star players.

“I think it’s a no-brainer that the Heat. I think it will be hard. They’d have to pull some upsets — but I think the Heat have the better shot.”

Both teams got at least that far last season, with each having to emerge from the play-in round to do so. The Lakers ultimately were swept out of the Western Conference Finals by the Denver Nuggets, while the Heat held on to defeat the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami advanced to the 2023 NBA Finals, which it lost to Denver.

The Heat have reached the conference finals in three of the past four seasons, including in 2020 when they eventually lost the NBA Finals to the Lakers.

This season, Windhorst said he believes the Heat have a better chance to avoid going through the play-in round again by finishing in the top six of the standings in the East. Meanwhile, he said the Lakers are unlikely to place that high in the West.

Los Angeles somewhat surprisingly has gotten almost a full complement of games from veterans LeBron James and Anthony Davis, yet still has been hovering around the .500 mark all season. Despite dealing with ankle pain caused by “wear and tear,” James has been on the court for 56 of the Lakers’ 64 games so far, while Davis has played in 60 of their games.

By comparison, Heat star Jimmy Butler has been able to play in just 43 of their 62 games to date, and Bam Adebayo has taken part in 52 contests. Miami has used 20 different players this season, with 17 of them making at least one start.

Coincidentally, the Lakers have had guard Gabe Vincent for only five games this season after he left the Heat this past offseason as a free agent. However, he reportedly is trending toward making a return soon, as is Jarred Vanderbilt.

Having those two players back could give the Lakers a needed boost in the final month of the season and perhaps into the playoffs. Los Angeles is in 10th place – the final play-in position in the Western Conference – with a 34-30 record heading into their game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has covered the NBA for almost three decades. He remembers the birth of "Showtime" and has always admired the star power the Lakers have brought to the game.